Tax reform can be a sticky political issue, but the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce discussed just the facts of recent state tax reform at its forum Wednesday.
“This is simply a fact-finding mission,” said Terry Elam, the chamber chairman.
Elam said tax reform, examining infrastructure that has been in place since the 1930s, might be one good thing that comes out of the economic downturn.
“Crises can be good things,” he said. “It can be a galvanizing force, and hopefully give us a sense of urgency.”
The forum at the Salvation Army Kroc Center consisted of two keynote speakers and a four-person panel to answer questions from the audience.
Kelly McCutchen is the president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that speaks on economic policy issues for the state of Georgia. He spoke to the audience about general tax principles and Georgia’s current tax and business climate, something he says could stand some improvement.
“Georgia used to be growing and attracting population, but the numbers just don’t support that anymore,” he said. “We’re uncompetitive.”
McCutchen said the reason is Georgia’s high state income tax. Georgia ranked 50th in new job creation among the 50 states in July, and McCutchen said that goes back to the state income tax. Companies, he said, do not want to bring people to a state that charges them income tax when other states don’t.
“Our business climate depends a lot on what our neighbors are doing,” he said. “The tax difference between Georgia and the rest of the United States is keeping people out of the state. Our tax code has real implications.”
Skeetter McCorkle, the president and CEO of McCorkle Nurseries and an appointee to the Council on Tax Reform and Fairness to Georgians, said House Bill 388 was legislation that attempted to make Georgia a more business-friendly state by lowering income tax and adding a few sales tax items, but the Legislature ran out of time before it could pass in the 2011 session.
“There’s quite a bit of work involved in getting this done,” he said. “Georgia is ripe for tax reform, and I hope we can get something done in the near future.”
HB 388 proposed decreasing the personal income tax from 6 percent to 4.6 percent in January 2012, and then to 4.55 percent in January 2013. To make up for this decrease in revenue, the bill also proposed imposing a sales tax on motor vehicle maintenance, repair and installation services, and casual motor vehicle sales, and a 7 percent excise tax on communication services.