News Analysis: More Georgians interested in tax reform plan

ATLANTA - Interest is building in the plan to rework the state and local taxing system, both among the public and among those looking to punch holes in it.

It's the most important issue in the minds of a plurality of respondents surveyed by InsiderAdvantage, according to a poll released Wednesday.

In the survey conducted Sept. 17 of 508 Georgians, 40.3 percent ranked the tax plan tops. It ranked first among men, women and every ethnic group.

It's only when party affiliation is considered that differences appear. Exactly half the Republicans rank the tax proposal No. 1, while the Democrats and independents put transportation slightly ahead.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, has been traveling around the state talking up his idea for swapping state and local property taxes with a beefed up sales tax. He says his own poll shows three out of four people favor his idea.

If it's considered as the most important issue before the Legislature, he'll have ample political momentum to push his bill through. Of course, many pundits and political bloggers give the measure a less-than-even chance of passage at this point.

Hurdles appeared this summer.

One is a road show sponsored by the local governments that view Mr. Richardson's concept as robbing them of power because they wouldn't be able to determine their budgets. Instead, the General Assembly would allocate some portion of the state's sales tax to each city, county and school district with a formula he hasn't revealed. And newspapers across the state have been filled with stories on each individual government body objecting to the plan during regular monthly meetings.

But Mr. Richardson is confident the public distaste for property taxes will drown out local politicians.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has signaled that he will soon unveil his own tax plan, not to mention his campaign promise to protect senior citizens from income taxes. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, considered a rival to Mr. Richardson for the 2010 gubernatorial nomination, has been publicly cool to the speaker's idea. Senators favor eliminating income taxes rather than property taxes.

There's likely to be some squawking from the barbers, house painters, baby-sitters and others in the service sector who will have to collect sales taxes from their customers for the first time. But Mr. Richardson notes that as an attorney, he'll also have to keep track of the tax for every hour he bills a client.

He brushes their complaining aside as casually as the warnings from liberals that sales taxes put too much of a burden on the poor. His solution for that is to rebate low-income taxpayers for the tax they pay on their purchases.

As the first tax proposal on the table, Mr. Richardson's is drawing all of the attention. His challenge is to figure out who he has to persuade, who has to be accommodated and who will have to be steamrollered.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com