When Richardson first started turning heads last year with his idea of eliminating all property taxes in Georgia and replacing them with an expanded sales tax, a lot of ears understandably pricked up. Who likes paying property taxes, right?
But when Richardson's scheme came under serious nonpartisan scrutiny, the warts started showing.
His plan would have wrested revenue control from municipalities and placed it firmly in the hands of state government. The state, in effect, would have determined how much money it thinks cities, counties and school systems need to operate. That's like the bank telling you how you should spend your paycheck.
To stave off further criticism, Richardson changed his proposal -- but it's not any prettier. He now aims to do away with tag taxes and school-levied property taxes, and replace them with an expanded sales tax on services.
How in the world is this any better? It still robs local authorities from controlling their own money. And it ties crucial school funding to a sales tax, which is prone to fall victim to recession and other economic vagaries.
Elsewhere in the package of legislation is a proposal to freeze assessed values for residential property at 2008 levels until the property is resold. Again, it looks good, but only until you look closely.
Say you buy a home after this plan takes effect, and your new next-door neighbor has a house identical to yours. So who'll pay higher property taxes? You. That's because while your neighbor enjoys his frozen assessment, you'll have to pay more because of your newly assessed house. New homeowners get a shamefully raw deal under this mess of a tax plan.
Yes, property tax assessments can border on the ridiculous, and the system is ripe for abuse. But if given a choice between hitching a government's fiscal wagon to a property tax or a sales tax -- and it's stability and fairness you're looking for -- you have to go with the property tax, however reluctantly.
Richardson's tax package may hit the General Assembly floor for debate as soon as this week, and hopefully enough right-thinking legislators will come loaded and ready to shoot these dangerous, malformed ideas down. What we need is a more balanced, better reasoned and logically sound plan for tax reform in Georgia, not the mess being pushed by Richardson.