Sen. Shafer says Fulton needed ‘right-sizing’: Looks to replace income tax with sales tax

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ATLANTA – President Pro Tem of the Senate David Shafer acknowledges there has been a flurry of bills of local legislation aimed at curtailing the spending if not the powers of Fulton County government.

But he says legislation aimed at “right-sizing” Fulton County is justified now that 85 percent of the county is incorporated into cities.

Many of the bills are still in various stages of their journey through the House and Senate on their way for the governor’s signature. At the top of the list is the redistricting bill that has passed both houses and will create three commission districts – two north of the river and a third with Sandy Springs and part of Atlanta.

This in all likelihood will mean three Republican seats on the Fulton County Commission and perhaps a more conservative bent than in recent years.

Asked if he thought the new Republican majority in the Fulton legislative delegation will be as active in future years as it has been this first year in which some 13 local bills have been brought up, Shafer said it has been a process.

“We are trying to put appropriate limits on Fulton County’s ability to tax. Our objective now that Fulton County is 85 percent municipalities, we need an orderly consideration of what Fulton County’s role will be in that environment,” Shafer said. “The limitation of taxation will lead Fulton County to examine its priorities.”

What Shafer is most ardent about is a plan involving two constitutional amendments that will “set the framework” to phase out the state income tax. He is hopeful the amendments will be on the November 2014 ballot.

The first amendment sets a hard cap on the state income tax of 6 percent. That is locked in and the state Legislature could never raise it. The second amendment sets a “soft” cap on the sales tax. It locks that in at the current 4 percent.

“You would not be able to raise the sales tax above 4 percent unless it was either used to pay for infrastructure approved in a [statewide] referendum or the increase is used to reduce and phase out the state income tax,” Shafer said.

Replacing the income tax with a consumption tax will accomplish two goals. Shafer said he always thought taxes should be levied on consumption and not productivity. Second, it would make Georgia more competitive nationally for jobs and new development.

“Two neighboring states, Tennessee and Florida, do not have state income tax now. Phasing that out would certainly make us more competitive with them for jobs,” Shafer said.

The amendments would not necessarily trigger any changes right away. That is what Shafer meant by setting the framework.

“It doesn’t lay out a schedule. It simply caps the sales tax and the income tax. It sets the framework and begins that conversation. And the changes could be done incrementally by successive sessions of the General Assembly.”

Also of import is the bill that would settle the boundary issue between Tennessee and Georgia that would solve Georgia’s water problems. The legislation championed by Shafer and state Rep. Harry Geisinger would have Georgia concede its claim to territory south of the Tennessee River in exchange for a small portion of land to allow the withdrawal of water from the river.

He said this could solve Georgia’s “water wars” with Florida and Alabama.

“The Tennessee River is 15 times the size of the Chattahoochee. It’s a 100-year solution for our water needs,” he said.