Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Howling

What appears below was submitted as a letter to the editor of the Banner-Herald in response to this article and this editorial of last Thursday. The letter appeared in today's edition.

Facing an unprecedented revenue shortfall, the Georgia General Assembly recently discontinued the decade-old Homeowners Tax Relief Grants program. These payments, made by the state to local governments, were intended to offset the property tax burden placed on we taxpayers by those same local governments. Predictably, local officials across the state are howling now that they will be forced to increase property taxes to compensate for these lost funds. But is their consternation justified?

No, not really. That is because, since its inception, the program has simply engaged in the fiscal sophistry of robbing Peter to pay Paul. From where did the folks under the Gold Dome get the money to fund the grants in the first place? From we same taxpayers, of course. So instead of funneling tax money through the state bureaucracy, merely to have it distributed back to local governments, we are now going to pay those local governments directly.

The truth is that to the taxpayers generally, the General Assembly’s action represents not so much a tax increase as a tax transfer, from the state bureaucracy to local ones. If anything, this approach should have the advantage of making local government budgeting more transparent, if for no other reason than we taxpayers will now feel the full brunt of local expenditures.

Once again, government at all levels, not to mention the media and citizens generally, need to recognize that there is no free lunch. Ultimately, we taxpayers are the source of all government largess.

I’ve been making this same point for years. Whether it is the latest iteration of SPLOST, or Homeowner Tax Relief Grants, or an increased hotel/motel occupancy tax, we are constantly being assured that someone else will pay for our local expenditures. But it does not work out that way, does it? My property taxes increased dramatically this year, in part because of the General Assembly's action, but also because the Unified Government upped the millage rate and (unbelievably!!!) increased my assessment. Why? Because the local government has not, and will not, reign in its spending to any appreciable degree.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are on target with comments like this. Property owners are the ultimate backers of government spending when revenue from other sources is wiped-out.

I thought it extremely childish and irresponsible for some in the media to attempt to point the finger back at the state -- particularly at Republicans -- and try to convince the public that our own local spending (M&O, BOE) was not responsible for the taxes we pay.

Why on earth would they do that? The only thing I can imagine is that they are keen not only to keep government spending at high levels, but to, in fact, increase that level of spending. (And of course, they'll support any and all SPLOSTS and veritable boat-loads of cash thrown into the maws of U.GA. and the local public schools.)