It is human nature to shift one’s costs and taxes to someone else. Everyone looks for a break ranging from shopping for discounts, using coupons, responding to special offers, etc. On a larger scale businesses typically look for tax breaks, tax credits, tax abatements, tax incentives, special tariffs, non-compete laws, and more. Churches get special tax treatment at all levels ranging from paying no property taxes to all sorts of federal, state and local exemptions. While the recipients feel justified and deserving of their special statuses, what is too often overlooked is that others have to pick up the slack. As congressman and senate candidate John Kingston would say, there are no free lunches---unless you are like him and one of the favored.
John Williams’ Riverwalk project should be a winner by any measure considering its location in the Platinum Triangle and proximity to the new Braves stadium. Yet Williams, with the help of Cobb commission chairman Tim Lee and other prominent Republicans who tout free markets, want to give Williams a tax abatement that would have cost the school system millions of dollars over a decade. But there is more---building this complex would require more police and fire protection, but Williams didn’t want to pay for it, and Lee seems to think that somehow that’s okay. (I haven’t seen Lee’s campaign contribution reports, but I would bet that Williams is a big supporter and maybe even a fundraiser for Lee too.) Instead , Cobb County homeowners and all of us who pay sales tax would have subsidized the services that Williams would have gotten virtually for free when he called 911.
There has been lots of talk about the additional number of police officers that will be needed once the stadium is built, but Lee hasn’t said how he will pay for them. All we are being told is that it won’t cost property owners any additional money. Maybe the Braves stadium and surrounding development will produce enough revenue to pay for everything; maybe not. No one will know until the projects are complete. Then we will know if the projections were in the ballpark or if the taxpayers are on the hook. By then Lee will be long gone.
For all the talk about small businesses being the backbone of the country’s economic power, you wouldn’t know it if the measure is tax breaks. Big business is where the political power is, and the federal and state tax codes are written around their special interests. The argument we always hear from our officials is that if we don’t play this game, we will lose businesses to other municipalities or states that do. The problem is that all too often the businesses that get the tax incentives don’t live up to their promises, and the taxpayers have to make up the shortfall. Perhaps if the state spent more money on infrastructure, public transportation, public safety, education, and healthcare among the big issues, we wouldn’t have to incentivize individual businesses to locate to Cobb County and other parts of Georgia on an ad hoc basis. They would want to come here because of our friendly and attractive business environment. And that would add good paying jobs and a growing tax base to pay for the amenities and improved quality of life for all Georgians.
We the voters are going to have to think differently if we have any hope of change. I thought Governor Deal was right to push for the TSPLOST that went up in flames. We were told by the opponents that there was a Plan B. To date that plan remains known only to those that touted it. About four years ago we had a referendum asking if the voters would support a $10 fee paid every four years when you renewed your driver’s license with the money going to pay for trauma hospitals in rural Georgia. Opponents defeated it with most of them arguing that they were taxed enough already.
We are going to see more of the likes of John Williams. The Weather Channel didn’t waste any time looking for their “me too” largess. I wish I could understand how Republicans, who hold the local and state power, can claim to support free markets and then interfere with them with handouts that come from other people’s pockets. I wish I could understand how they can bloviate about how important small businesses are to the economy and then do absolutely nothing for them. I guess we deserve the officials we are foolish enough to elect.