Monthly Archives: November 2014
On January 23, I will once again be attending GMA’s annual Mayors’ Day Conference in Atlanta. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House are invited to the breakfast to share their perspectives on the 2015 legislative session, scheduled to start on Jan. 12, 2015.
This will be four days of intensive networking and training. On past conferences, I have even taken Hawkinsville’s success stories to the other cities, speaking in detail of our successes with Cotton Mill Lofts.
This year, I am attending training on both OPEN MEETINGS and MUNICIPAL LAW. I not only want to do the RIGHT THING, but I want to do it in the RIGHT WAY! These sessions will help me do just that. This will add 9 hours to my current training credits of 72 hours. I personally believe that the more training any elected official can obtain, the better he/she can do their job!
University of Texas Communication studies and management professor Dr. John Daly will be the keynote speaker at the Mayors’ Day awards luncheon on Sunday, Jan. 25. Daly will provide tips to city leaders on improving communications skills and becoming more effective community advocates.
“We expect a thought-provoking presentation from Dr. Daly at our Mayors’ Day,” Norton said. “He will provide action steps that city leaders will be able to implement back home.”
The GMA Board of Directors will hold an open meeting on Saturday, from 3:45-5:15 p.m.
The LPC (Legislative Policy Council) of which I am a new member, will be holding a meeting at 4:30 on Sunday.
Sunday will also host our District Caucuses. This is where cities in our surrounding area meet to discuss regional issues.
The familiar phrase from Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts,” is what Sergeant Joe Friday would say when he needed to get to the details he was looking for—and that is what Georgia’s cities are saying with the FACT Act. Georgia’s Department of Revenue (DOR) has worked hard to ensure sales tax compliance but needs legislative permission to offer local governments more detailed sales tax data—and that is just what the FACT Act will do.
FACT stands for Full Accountability in the Collection of Taxes. The proposed legislation would require DOR to collect and prepare sales tax data at the municipal level, as well as for the unincorporated areas of Georgia. Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville), chair of the House Retirement Committee, has agreed to sponsor the legislation in the 2014 legislative session.
Sales tax data is a tool for both state and local governments and compliance has always been an important for both levels of government. The addition of detailed sales tax figures would allow local governments to be a better partner with DOR in policing retailers who side-step the law by avoiding payment or collections of sales taxes. Better compliance means that tax-paying business owners have greater certainty that they are on a level playing field with their peers.
Just as a business needs to know and understand where its revenues come from, state and local governments need the best data available in order for elected officials to make decisions on revenue streams, expenditures and balanced budgets. This has become more of a challenge with the implementation of 2012’s HB 386 tax reforms. In HB 386, the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) was expanded to include a wider variety of agricultural inputs and broadened the number of types of businesses that qualify for the exemption—making illegal use of GATE certificates easier and more likely. Greater sales tax detail will help give local governments a better view to from which to forecast, while showing fluctuations that may be due to misuse of GATE certificates or other exemptions.
If commerce is the life-blood of a community, sales tax data is a measure of that community’s health. Data derived from sales tax figures at the local level could be used by local government officials, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Community Affairs in accomplishing their missions. With this information available to local officials, public investments can be directed to foster areas of future growth or to shore-up areas of weakened retail commerce.
With sales tax figures currently compiled at the county level, there exists an unnecessary subjectivity in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations. Since neither cities nor counties can actually say how much sales tax is raised in each jurisdiction, assumptions are made on both sides of the negotiations. Actual city and unincorporated areas’ sales tax figures will give much-needed objectivity in LOST negotiations, ultimately making improved LOST negotiations possible.
As a sitting member of the LPC of GMA (Legislative Policy Council of Georgia Municipal Association), I support this measure. Information is relevant.
During the 2012 legislative session, the General Assembly approved sweeping tax reform in H.B. 386. The bill had overwhelming bipartisan support in both Houses, passing with a 54-0 vote in the Senate and 155-9 in the House. Originating from a larger set of recommendations unveiled in January 2011 by the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness, the tax reform package included a number of provisions that impact our community. Among the provisions: a new motor vehicle title fee (TAVT) to replace the ad valorem tax on automobiles; elimination of the sales tax on automobile purchases; elimination of the sales tax imposed on energy used in manufacturing; and broadening of exemptions for the agriculture industry including energy, equipment, and business inputs such as seed, fertilizers, feed, etc. The reduction of sales tax revenues is no surprise as the state fiscal analysis of H.B. 386 prepared prior to passage of the bill projected that elimination of sales tax on automobiles and the included sales tax exemptions would cost local communities $199.6 million from 2013 to 2015; however, the fiscal analysis could not have predicted that these losses would be unevenly distributed across the state, a fact which is evident now that the exemptions have been in place for 19 months.
The approval of H.B. 386 followed years of study and recommendations aimed at comprehensive tax reform. In 2012, Georgia, like most other states, was just beginning to emerge from the “Great Recession” and state leaders were eager to find ways to help Georgia compete for jobs and encourage economic development. The intended purpose of the exemptions included in H.B. 386 was to support some of Georgia’s most critical industries, including agriculture and manufacturing. However, since the provisions of H.B. 386 have been in place, it has become evident that there are unintended consequences of the bill that are having a significant impact on local government revenues since the law
went into effect in 2013.
Sales taxes are a primary source of revenue for Hawkinsville to provide critical services that protect the health and safety of our residents and maintain a vibrant quality of life for all taxpayers. SPLOST and ESPLOST have been approved by voters throughout the state as a means of funding capital projects for local governments and school systems. Since 2001, approximately 95% of SPLOST referenda have been approved by the voters. Every sales tax exemption whittles away at local revenues, even as costs to provide services and demand for services increase. Exemptions that are put in place after
approval of a SPLOST, ESPLOST, or bond referenda erode the revenues available to complete capital projects and to pay off debt.
The Georgia Municipal Association has collected data on sales tax distributions to all of Georgia’s 159 counties and 538 cities during a 19-month period from February 2012 to September 2014. Sales tax distribution data was obtained from the Georgia Department of Revenue website, and includes distributions of LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST, MOST (City of Atlanta), HOST and MARTA sales taxes.
The picture above illustrates the percent change in sales tax distributions immediately PRIOR to the enactment of the exemptions to the period following implementation of the exemptions. Areas shaded in green have experienced increased distribution during these time frames; areas shaded in red have experienced decreased distributions.
As the maps indicate, a comparison of distributions from 2012 to 2013 (and beyond) shows:
– an immediate and disparate impact from region to region;
– as a direct result of the exemptions included in the 2012 tax reform package, areas of the state with a large agricultural industry base show a greater decline in sales tax revenues than areas with greater diversity of industry; and
– rural areas have seen greater reductions than urban and suburban counties in Georgia.
Pulaski County has seen sales tax reductions from -10% to -15% due to these changes in the law. This effects our LOST (Local Option Sales Tax – which we split 50/50 with the County), and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax – used to fund capital projects) and it also effects ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax – which goes to our school system, not the city). Hawkinsville is working hard to meet service demands, maintain infrastructure, and provide essential services, while cutting departmental budgets.
We need to take a hard look at what exemptions are WORKING to bring industry to our state and what exemptions are due to lobbying efforts by well-funded special interest groups!