Georgia Sales Tax Exemptions….
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!