Originally created 08/08/06

Car tax could be on its last mile



ALPHARETTA, Ga. - An unpopular tax is in the cross hairs of Georgia lawmakers as the November elections approach.

Republicans in the General Assembly are considering repealing the state's property tax on cars, putting local governments on edge.

A study committee meeting centered on the proposal drew nearly 100 people to a Marriott Hotel in the suburbs of Atlanta. Residents, lawmakers, candidates and education groups crowded a section of the hotel's ballroom to hear about the proposal.

Supporters say it's unfair for citizens to continue paying a tax on a vehicle after they have bought and paid sales tax on it.

Political concerns also entered the conversation in an election year.

"It's good political policy," said Jack Reid, a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He added that, if lawmakers believe tax money belongs to residents, "then I suggest to you that it's not only good political policy, it is excellent public policy."

He said former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, a Republican, was locked in a tight battle for the state's highest elected office when he proposed repealing the car tax at an event in northern Virginia.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the place erupted," Mr. Reid said. "It erupted. The reaction of the electorate was instantaneous. ... As of Labor Day, that election was over."

Mr. Reid said the state slid a little in its goal of eliminating car taxes after Mr. Gilmore, limited to one term by state law, left office, though. Residents still get a hefty discount.

Arthur Ferdinand, the Fulton County tax commissioner, said it's not unusual to hear complaints about taxes. "The one on motor vehicles really sticks in people's craws," he said.

Any move to get rid of the car tax wouldn't primarily hit the state, however.

The overwhelming majority of the tax flows to local governments. Of the nearly $650 million in car taxes, only about $5.2 million goes to the state. An additional $368.8 million goes to school districts, $171.9 million to counties and $55.7 million to cities.

But school systems and other local governments across the state are still concerned that a repeal of the car tax cut could hit local revenues.

"Some small school systems, this is a really huge chunk of their revenue," said Rick Williamson, the assistant director for planning at DeKalb County Schools who attended the meeting.

He said local officials were skeptical that the state would completely cover any loss stemming from the end of the tax.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.