Ah, they're shutting down the factory now, Just when all the bills are due.
-- Leonard Cohen
We're taught in these enlightened times that we must not, at any cost, ever utter such objectionable terms as the f-word, the s-word and the n-word.
However, if you are part of any governmental body or agency, you're more apt to fall out of favor with the utterance of the dreaded t-word.
That would be tax.
Some politicians are so afraid of the word they're brow-beaten into signing some goober's ludicrous pledge to never vote for more taxes, as if that possibility exists. Afraid, for some reason only they know, to go back on their "Grover Norquist pledge" --Oooooh -- these followers spend most of their time trying to come up with creative ways to deny the bill they've just signed is actually a tax increase, even when everyone knows better.
The Georgia Legislature came up with a very sound piece of legislation during the 2012 session, a bill that should help the state attract even more businesses and industries. Starting on Jan. 1, the state will decrease the tax it charges manufacturers for energy by 1 percent. Four years later, the tax will disappear.
The one catch to the legislation, though, is an obvious one that somehow slipped by many legislators. The tax rate in most of Georgia's counties is 7 percent, including 1 percent taxes for local-option sales tax, special-purpose local-option sales tax and a special education SPLOST. The state charges a 4 percent tax.
While House Bill 386 was working its way through the Legislature, a much-needed and popular piece of legislation that would take Georgia off the list of 11 states that charge manufacturers taxes on energy, some observant folks -- chief among them the Association County Commissioners of Georgia -- noticed something that didn't quite add up.
HB 386, as originally written, eliminated 6 percent of state taxes charged manufacturers for energy, leaving the 1 percent E-SPLOST in place. The ACCG pointed out that the remaining 2 percent, minus the 4 percent state tax -- the LOST and SPLOST portions -- were approved by the voters in most of the state's 159 counties. So a rider was tacked onto the bill.
Counties that didn't want to lose the 2 percent LOST and SPLOST funds already approved by their voters could decide to "impose" a local 2 percent excise tax on manufacturers. If the counties -- and, subsequently, the cities located within their boundaries -- choose to require payment of the 2 percent LOST and SPLOST taxes, manufacturers' break from energy costs will be just the 4 percent state tax.
Since many of the legislators who voted to approve the tax didn't understand what they were voting for, obviously reports of the possible "new" excise tax have confounded voters.
"I've had calls from several people asking me how the county could even consider imposing another 2 percent tax on its citizens, and I've had some ask how we could vote for a tax that would hurt our manufacturers," Dougherty Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said. "I've tried to explain that, first, this so-called excise tax applies only to manufacturers, not taxpayers, and, second, it's not a new tax. It's the continuation of taxes approved by voters in this county.
"I don't think there's anyone at Procter & Gamble, MillerCoors, M&M Mars, Coats & Glark, Equinox or any of our other core manufacturers who doubt that Dougherty County and Albany support them wholeheartedly. And we're in favor of HB 386 doing away with the state tax on energy. But doing away with the 2 percent LOST and SPLOST funds would take away between $1 million and $2 million that is to be used on projects approved by our voters."
Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said state officials should have made the intent of HB 386 clearer.
"To unilaterally do away with the 2 percent (LOST and SPLOST collections) already in place would have amounted to another state-mandated reduction," she said.
Local county and city officials have not yet made a decision on the excise tax, but they have a small window in which to do so to have the measure in place by Jan. 1. No matter their decision, it would behoove those who break into a rash at the mention of the t-word to at least understand what's at stake before condemning officials for taking action that might actually be in the county and city's best interest.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.