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State economist: Additional tax cut not needed

ATLANTA – The General Assembly does not need to pass another tax cut to grow Georgia’s economy, State Economist Jeffrey Dorfman said Tuesday.

Georgia lawmakers reduced the state’s income tax two years ago from 6% to 5.75%, the first change in the rate since the 1930s. The 2018 bill called for the legislature to vote again this year whether to reduce the tax rate again to 5.5%.

But with employment in Georgia and the state’s unemployment rate already at record highs, cutting taxes again would not be an effective way to increase economic activity by luring other businesses to the Peach State, Dorfman told members of the state House and Senate Appropriations committees at the start of three days of budget hearings.

“A quarter-percent one way or the other just doesn’t move the bar,” Dorfman said.

The $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 state budget plan Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled last week does not take into account the $500 million revenue hit the state would absorb if the General Assembly follows through with the additional .25% tax cut.

In an interview just before the start of this year’s legislative session, Kemp noted the tax cut was an initiative then-Gov. Nathan Deal steered through the General Assembly before Kemp took office and there might not be “an appetite” among lawmakers to approve the additional cut.

Legislative Democrats and some Republicans have argued now is not the right time to cut taxes further, as lawmakers take up a proposed budget full of spending reductions Kemp has recommended to account for a slowdown in tax collections since the middle of last year.

But other members of the legislature’s Republican majority, including House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, have endorsed following through with the second installment of the tax cut to fulfill a promise GOP candidates made on the campaign trail.

On Tuesday, Dorfman said the first tax cut two years ago already has achieved what Deal set out to do in 2018 by wiping out any revenue windfall the state expected to receive from congressional passage of tax reform legislation in late 2017.

“We did a good job giving the windfall back to taxpayers,” he said. “We don’t need that additional quarter-point cut to take care of that.”

Dorfman, who warned lawmakers last September there might be a mild recession in Georgia early this year, gave a more optimistic economic forecast on Tuesday. He said all economic indicators show the state should avoid a recession barring an international crisis such as a renewal of the trade war between the U.S. and China or a disruption in the oil markets of the Middle East.

With tax revenue growth slowing dramatically in Georgia, Kemp ordered most state agencies last summer to reduce spending by 4% during the rest of this fiscal year and 6% in fiscal 2021, which starts July 1.

Speaking before Dorfman on Tuesday, the governor praised department heads for coming up with innovative ways to meet his budget-cutting targets, including consolidating space to reduce rental costs and merging programs now handled by two agencies under one agency’s umbrella to eliminate duplication.

He cited the Georgia Department of Corrections for saving $16 million in overtime costs through more efficient scheduling.

“We’ve shown taxpayers we are good stewards of their hard-earned money,” Kemp said.

The budget review hearings will continue through Thursday, with the full General Assembly returning to the Gold Dome next week.


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Complete Count Committee gearing up to ensure accurate Census count

ALBANY — Efforts to collect information utilized by the U.S. Census Bureau kicked off this week, but most residents of the United States and its territories who don’t live in frozen Alaska have a couple of more months before they’ll be asked to report.

Toksook Bay, Alaska, was ground zero for launching the Census on Tuesday, as the count begins in those vast expanses because travel in the region is made difficult in March and April by melting ice and snow that disrupts air and boat transportation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

No fooling, responses in Georgia and most of the country are not due until on or before April 1. Residents who do not meet that deadline can expect a knock on their door from workers hired to track down households from which no response is received.

Local officials are gearing up for the effort to ensure that as many people are counted as possible.

The count of the nation’s residents that is required every 10 years is used to determine the distribution of state and federal tax dollars and in drawing election district boundaries, so making sure everyone is counted is important, said Paul Forgey, director of Planning and Development Services for the city of Albany and Dougherty County.

Estimates are that one person accounts for about $20,000 in annual funding per year, so each person not counted means the loss of $200,000 to a community over a 10-year period, said Forgey, who also is heading up the Albany-Dougherty Complete Count Committee.

“It’s going to mean hundreds (of dollars) in a community for those who are not counted,” he said. “Whether it’s $200,000 or $2 million, you’re missing out.

“We want to make sure we get everything we should. The citizens are paying taxes, so we want to make sure they’re counted.”

Electoral districts also are drawn based on population, so making sure everyone is counted is important to ensure residents are adequately represented in federal and state government bodies.

“We want to make sure we’re accurately counted,” Forgey said.

“Otherwise we could lose representation.”

The Complete Count Committee has been meeting monthly since summer 2019, and its efforts will be driven toward educating the public about the Census and why it is important, Forgey said.

“And to reach out to the hard-to-count population to make sure they know the Census is important and it’s safe,” he said.

Some people in the community may be suspicious about how Census information is used, for example.

“The data can’t be used for any purposes of getting in trouble,” Forgey said. “It can’t be used by law enforcement. Hard-to-count populations generally are low-income or foreign-born.

“We have talked to people who have been identified as community leaders in their communities because we want people from these communities who are trusted to give the message.”

The group could use more contacts in the Latino community, Forgey said.

Interest in the committee was strong initially but has dropped somewhat, he added. The hope is that interest will pick up as time for the count draws closer.

One difference in 2020 is that this year’s Census is available online, and the majority of respondents are expected to submit their answers using that method. That means they can use laptops and cellphones instead of filling out and mailing forms.

“It will be painless and quick,” Forgey said.

One of the tasks of the local committee is keeping the Census Bureau informed on new housing that did not exist 10 years ago and new residents in the community.

In addition, the committee will do some marketing to get the word out to residents.

“We had floats in both the (Albany State University) homecoming and Christmas parades,” Forgey said. “We have discussed radio spots.”

Reaching out to the school system and libraries also will play a role. Children can share information with their parents that they learn at those locations.

“We’re going to do events with libraries in schools,” Forgey said. “We’re going to do what we can with the Complete Count Committee. We want to have better numbers than we did 10 years ago.”


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Police make arrest, continue investigation into fatal shooting

ALBANY — A 24-year-old man arrested at the scene of a Saturday afternoon slaying and charged with murder could face additional charges as the investigation continues.

Randy Lee Barney was arrested at the 3005 East Park Court residence where Thomas Isaiah Harrold was found fatally shot at about 5 p.m. Saturday.

Harrold was pronounced dead at the scene, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler said. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

Harrold was shot at least once, Fowler said.

The Dougherty County Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation are investigating the fatal shooting, which is the first homicide of 2020 in the county.


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State DNR sponsors 'Give It a Shot' shooting classes

SOCIAL CIRCLE – For would-be outdoorsmen and -women who have little to no experience operating a firearm or bow, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division will provide great opportunities for novices with several upcoming scheduled “Give It a Shot” classes at various locations across the state.

These classes are open to men, women and youngsters age 12 and up and will focus on those with little to no experience in operating a firearm or archery equipment. Upon completion, participants will understand and be able to demonstrate how to safely handle, operate, maintain and store a firearm or bow.

Scheduled classes will be held in:

♦ West Point WMA Shooting Range: Mar. 16 (shotgun class);

♦ Cedar Creek WMA Shooting Range: Mar. 24 (handgun class);

♦ Wilson Shoals WMA Shooting Range: Apr. 13 (handgun class);

♦ Cedar Creek WMA Shooting Range: Apr. 28 (shotgun class);

♦ Cedar Creek WMA Shooting Range: May 26 (archery class);

♦ Cedar Creek WMA Shooting Range: June 30 (rifle class)

Attendees will use only firearms or bows provided by WRD (participants will not need or be able to use personal firearms at this event).

Interested persons are urged to register soon as space is limited for all classes. Registration is required. Visit www.GoOutdoorsGeorgia.com, and search for the event.

Those who do not currently have a “Customer Account” at GoOutdoorsGeorgia will need to create one prior to registering for the class.

For more information about the “Give It A Shot” program, visit https://georgiawildlife.com/give-it-shot-program. For more information about Georgia shooting ranges, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/AllRanges.