By Charles Oliver, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
Georgia's General Assembly could abolish the state's income tax, but two local legislators said that isn't going to happen soon.
"There is a significant desire to do away with that tax in the state government," said state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta. "But there are expenditures and costs that we have to fund. And you have to find a way to make up that revenue or cut that spending."
Georgia's income tax brought in almost $8.4 billion in 2011, or about 55 percent of all revenue.
"There's no way that we are going to eliminate that tax in the next few years. But we can begin to whittle away at it," said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton.
The two were asked about the possibility of abolishing the state income tax Tuesday night at a meeting of the Dalton Tea Party. Both men said they support ending the tax.
Bethel noted the Legislature took some steps towards changing the state tax system in the session that ended six weeks ago. Lawmakers passed a tax reform bill that, among other changes, abolished the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, mining and agriculture.
"In this area, with its strong manufacturing base, we know how important that change is," Bethel said, noting that no other Southeastern state charges such a tax.
"That put us at a disadvantage trying to recruit businesses. This was an easy way for us to play catch up with our peers in the Southeast," Bethel said.
The tax cut will be phased in over four years to minimize the hit to state revenues.
Lawmakers also passed an overhaul of the criminal justice system, which will help keep non-violent felons out of prison. Bethel said the law will save the state money, since probation, drug treatment and other alternatives are cheaper than building and running prisons.
"It will also keep us safer since it frees up those beds and we can place more violent prisoners in them," he said.
Dickson said Bethel deserved some of the credit for the criminal justice law.
"I don't know if you remember. But two years ago, when he was running for Senate, Charlie was talking about a lot of these changes. And some of the proposals he talked about are the backbone of this law," he said.
Dickson also told the audience they will have an opportunity to vote this November on an amendment to the state constitution that will determine how much authority the state has to create charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from some laws and regulations. In return, the schools must meet certain standards.
State law currently gives local school boards the power to create charter schools. Dickson said some local school boards had "rejected some charter applications that seemed reasonable." So lawmakers had given first the state Board of Education then a state commission the power the review proposals rejected by local school boards and approve them. The state Supreme Court ruled last year that was unconstitutional.
The amendment, if approved by voters, would return the power to review and approve charter schools to the state.
(c)2012 The Daily Citizen (Dalton, Ga.)