Neely Young: A Tax On Visitors?

Why don’t we have a visitors’ tax? More about this later. First, it is good to report that our Georgia Legislature finally accomplished something in 2010! After six years of treading water, the Georgia Republican-run House and Senate moved forward on important issues concerning our state.

Water policy, transportation and health and trauma care all received proper attention. What a difference the new speaker of the House of Representatives made. Instead of hostile name calling and rants that were common under former Speaker Glenn Richardson, Rep. David Ralston actually sat down with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Gov. Sonny Perdue and worked out solutions.

He didn’t please everyone, like the ultra liberals and the ultra right conservative Wing Nut segment of the legislature, most of whom are resigning. Now comes a long summer of state leaders’ efforts to find funding solutions to prepare for the loss of one billion dollars in federal stimulus revenue given to our state during the recession.

Former House Speaker Richardson’s major contribution to state government was devastating inaction. If you let your home go six long years without repair, it will deteriorate. This is what has happened to Georgia. State leaders should have dealt with tax reform after the 2001 recession, when state tax revenues plummeted. As now, back then education took the brunt of cuts in state spending. Gov. Perdue, to his credit, restored the cuts when the economy turned around.

This leads me back to the visitors’ tax. Richardson’s only success was with immigration legislation. During his term, Georgia passed more Jim Crow-type bills that violate the Voting Rights Act than any state in the union; most have been found unconstitutional. Richardson’s Wing Nut faction of the Repub-lican Party has cut, cut, cut government services to the point they have created a virtual safe haven for illegal immigrants who love to come to Georgia, knowing if they get caught, there are no new prisons to put them in. Except for a few privately funded facilities, Georgia hasn’t built a new state prison in eight years.

Illegal immigrants don’t have to worry about being caught by the Georgia State Patrol because their staffing has been reduced by 33 percent. County, city and other police departments have been reeling from layoffs, furloughs and other staff reductions.

If illegals do get arrested, there are likely not enough judges to prosecute them. Speaker Richardson’s much-publicized feud with the judicial system has resulted in the near elimination of the substitute judge system, where retired superior court judges could fill in when cases got bogged down. One proposal in this year’s session was to eliminate an additional 33 percent of superior court judges in Georgia.

I have called Georgia the “Welcome State.” We have some of the the lowest taxes (ranked 48th) in the U.S. We have the lowest motor fuel taxes in the country. People here don’t pay taxes on basic foods, like milk and bread. Our housing costs are some of the lowest in the nation.

A visitors’ sales tax of 1 percent could generate enough to make up for the lost stimulus money.

Who would pay? All of the 600,000 estimated illegal immigrants in Georgia plus the millions of travelers who drive through our state on the way to Florida and other parts of the U.S.

The tax would apply to all goods and services, including airline tickets, fuel, meals and other services used by tourists, truck drivers and others who visit our state and use our roads, parks and other state-owned facilities.

Residents of Georgia would pay the tax during the year, but then get a rebate when they file their Georgia income tax return. This would ensure that only Georgia residents would avoid paying the tax. Speaker Richardson addressed this issue and the methodology when he proposed his “Great Plan” back a few years ago. It was the one good idea in an overall bad tax proposal.

This is not an anti-illegal immigrant proposal because all non-citizens would gladly pay the tax, as would other travelers to our state. If the illegal immigrants dislike the tax, they could move. We would still have some of the lowest sales taxes in the nation. The visi-tors’ tax could save our schools, parks, roads and other infrastructure in future years.

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