Sorry, that’s not how things work in Gov. Nathan Deal’s pay-to-play administration. You pesky voters must take a back seat to the governor’s big campaign contributors who ante up and then get to sit on Hizzoner’s “competitiveness task force.”
These 21 special folks huddled with the governor last month under the guise of coming up with ways to pull Georgia out of the economic morass in which it’s languished since Deal took office in 2010. State unemployment remains stagnant at 8.7 percent, right where it was one year ago. And this year Georgia jumped from 15th nationally in food stamp recipients to sixth.
Deal’s task force members are corporate swells, real estate kingpins, big name lobbyists and wise guy lawyers, all hand-picked for their purported business acumen. Uninvited to Deal’s exclusive party are those annoying advocates for Georgia’s middle class and poor.
“It’s helpful for members of the General Assembly to hear their opinions,” Deal told a reporter. “They’re not bound by the opinions. But I think it’s important to have a group of outside individuals express their opinions and give them advice.”
You’ll never guess what advice Deal’s wealthy and influential “outside individuals” gave lawmakers so I’ll tell you: tax breaks for the wealthy and influential.
“It’s totally appropriate for the business community to advocate for tax breaks by themselves,” Alan Essig of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute said in an interview. “The problem is when they are the judge and jury. And it seems the governor has given them the perceived power in making tax cuts. It’s the fox guarding the henhouse.”
These foxes have been calling the shots since 2011, yet Georgia is no more competitive today than it was then. If anything, the state is sliding backward while the rest of the country continues to recover from the disastrous Bush recession.
Deal hustled to claim credit this week after Site Selection, a trade magazine, chose Georgia as the best place to do business. “Right now what we are doing appears to be working,” bragged the governor.
Deal’s real report card says otherwise.
The state lost 333,400 jobs from December 2007 through February 2010, and has recovered only about half of them, resulting in a net loss of nearly 160,000 jobs through March 2013, according to Georgia Budget and Policy Institute figures.
We can conclude Deal’s competitive task force, like the governor himself, has accomplished little except advancing what is best for the state’s GOP fat cats.
To that end, the latest scheme concocted by Deal and Republicans in the legislature would replace Georgia’s personal and corporate income tax with sales tax rates as high as 14.5 percent.
In a state with a median household income of $47,000, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute predicts their proposal could increase total taxes on up to 80 percent of Georgians. It also “changes the responsibility for funding state government by raising taxes on low- and middle-income people, dropping them for wealthy households and large corporations and making up the difference through deep budget cuts for schools, roads, hospitals and other ingredients of economic growth.”
Deal’s pay-to-play posse must be giddy over this idea.
“Such a radical tax shift … could raise the taxes of many small businesses and hurt the private sector in other ways, such as driving Georgia shoppers across state lines and shrinking the income consumers have to spend (locally),” warns the Institute.
Don’t want to pay more taxes? Tell Deal to listen to voices other than those coming from the special interests pumping cash into his re-election coffers.
Kevin Foley is a public relations executive, author and writer who lives in Kennesaw.