Flush with excess taxpayer dollars, Georgia legislature considers income tax cuts and new spending
This is a column by Charlie Harper, an Atlanta-based public policy expert and longtime contributor to the Savannah Morning News.
As the calendar moves to the second week of January, Georgia’s eyes begin to turn to Atlanta. Some are looking for leadership in problem solving, others are looking for campaign material, and some are emulating NASCAR fans in the hopes of a big crash. The Georgia General Assembly’s annual meeting attracts spectators of all kinds.
Before we dive into the various sideshows – and it’s an election year, there will be sideshows – let’s talk about the main event. The unique constitutional requirement of Georgian lawmakers is that they must adopt a balanced budget every year. This year’s budget process will be a little different.
Georgia’s budget writers spent a decade coming out of the Great Recession. They have managed to focus increasing spending on priority items during this period, with increasing spending on education the top priority every year, and then allocating it in a budgetary prudent manner to other priorities such as education. transportation, Medicaid and health care, and strengthening the state’s various pension systems.
More from Charlie Harper: I worked on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign. He was a man of principle who set an example.
Just as those targeted areas had hit their stride and the rainy day fund was full, COVID-19 hit. Two years ago, those same budget writers cut back, even in areas that required more spending to meet goals. The rainy day fund was opened to ease the burden while providing a massive state response to COVID-19.
Then Washington started to write checks. Many of them. Much of this money went to the state, as well as to local school districts, towns and counties. These funds came with strings, which brings us back to this year’s budget picture.
The state has literally billions – about $ 7 billion the last time I checked – that it has to spend this year on top of the recurring spending of about $ 28 billion in the core budget. The fund of rainy days is full. Federal rules on Georgia accepting much of this money depend on it not being used for tax cuts.
Long – and many – wishlists
You would think that after a decade of saying “no” to almost all superfluous budget requests, Budget Committees would be eager to play Santa Claus with a sleigh full of billions to give away. In reality, they are not.
Everyone has a wish list and every interest group realizes that there is money on the table. The number of times they will have to say “no” will increase exponentially for each “yes” funded.
So where is the money going? The bet is that teachers, as usual, will be on the front lines. Governor Kemp lifted part of his campaign in 2018 and as he faces re-election he will deliver on what remains of his pledge.
You can expect state law enforcement officers to be taken care of as well. Like all professions, it is increasingly difficult to find workers. LEOs have seen demands for their services increase, while some jurisdictions have advocated “defunding”. Expect continued legislation beyond the increases to deal with rising crime rates and gang activity.
A related priority will be to focus on the state’s mental health system. House Speaker David Ralston said it was a major goal – one that should be able to attract bipartisan support.
The billions distributed will not go as far as most would like. The cost of governance is not immune to the inflation that has hit each of our kitchen tables. The costs of infrastructure projects are increasing and labor for all public bodies is more difficult to find. It will cost more just to maintain the status quo.
As for sideshows and being a campaign year, several statewide candidates have decided to recycle unwritten plans to eliminate state income tax. It’s a shallow call to those who believe that we can “be like Florida or Texas” without – you know – whether we are Florida or Texas.
We will have to address several columns to this duck yet again in the weeks and months to come. The challenge for each of these candidates must be straightforward: Show your work.
The strings of federal money allow some leeway for tax relief, but sideshow performers will complain there is too much spending, and all of that should go to the elimination of income tax. of State. They should be forced at every mention of that to explain, in detail, exactly how their “plan” will work.
The problem with side shows is that they distract those responsible for driving safely. They do little more than help set up the crash that many watch and wait, even hoping.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Georgia Legislative Session Drives Spending And Secondary Priorities