Local control of tax at issue

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Richardson Jenna Marie Campbell, a seventh-grader at Riverside Middle School and daughter of Russ and Cathy Campbell of Martinez, who served as a page, poses with State Rep. Barry Fleming (left) and Speaker Glenn Richardson at the state capitol.

ATLANTA - Groups opposed to House Speaker Glenn Richardson's tax reform plan campaigned Monday at the Capitol, saying the measure would strip local governments of their ability to pay for their residents' needs.

"The proposals being discussed represent radical and untested changes to our tax system," said Alan Essig, the executive director of the progressive Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. "Major tax reform only comes along every 50 years or so, so the consequences of these changes, if they go wrong, will be felt for generations to come."

Though Mr. Richardson, R-Hiram, has not unveiled a specific plan, he has outlined the general idea behind his proposal: Scrapping the politically unpopular property tax and replacing it with an expanded sales tax that would cover services such as haircuts.

The point hammered home at the press conference was the loss of control by local governments, which raise the majority of their revenue from the property tax.

Under Mr. Richardson's plan, the state would divvy up the extra sales-tax revenue among the hundreds of cities, counties and school districts that would no longer be able to institute a property tax. Those governments would be allowed to use a small sales tax to raise money to fund some of their operations.

"When schools become totally state-funded, the state can at any time attach new strings to that funding," said Skip Dawkins, the president of the Georgia School Boards Association.

In a statement issued by his office, Mr. Richardson said groups opposed to the reform were hiding behind the local control argument.

"Local control has become a catchphrase for the ability of local governments to indiscriminately raise taxes regardless of people's ability to pay them," he said. "All we are asking is for the citizens of Georgia to be given the opportunity to vote and to decide if they want to change the current property tax system. ... What more local control can you have than letting taxpayers decide if they want to change the system?"