Merry Christmas, Cratchit -- time to pay your gruel tax

December 11, 2011 

Come on, Georgia Republicans. Let’s hear some of that righteous conservative indignation about “redistribution of wealth.” I dare you.

The special legislative committee that didn’t manage to pass tax “reform” last year is back, and the repugnant idea that just won’t go away is back with them: putting the state sales tax back on food.

Oh, but wait (as the late-night TV hucksters would say) -- there’s more. Not only do the Honorables want to tax your food again, but they want to raise the overall sales tax rate into the bargain. So you might be paying taxes on a basic necessity of life that hasn’t been taxed in Georgia since the mid-‘90s, and at 5 percent instead of 4.

And why do we want to do this?

Why, to “create jobs,” of course. And how, pray tell, would taxing your food do that? By bringing in enough money -- $560 million a year is the estimate -- to eliminate the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing. Apparently $1.6 billion worth of corporate tax breaks in Georgia isn’t quite enough.

Not only that, but if Georgia raises the sales tax, reimposes it on food AND raises the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, Georgia could cut its income rate from 6 to 3.7 percent.

This is being called a cut for “working taxpayers.”

Honest to God, they can look you right in the eye and say stuff like that with a straight face.

Bull … scat. It’s a nearly pure distillation of corporate socialism, an unconscionable squeeze on people of modest means to grease the skids even more for the interests that fund legislators’ campaigns and pay for those Sea Island golf weekends.

The math isn’t complicated: When consumption taxes go up so income taxes can come down, who pays more and who pays less? Think real hard.

Zell Miller may have turned into a reactionary nut, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was one of the most accomplished and enlightened governors Georgia ever had. And probably the best part of his legacy -- even greater in its own way than the HOPE scholarship -- was his recognition that regressive taxes are even more so when paying them isn’t a matter of consumer choice. So his administration pushed through a law to eliminate sales tax on food.

Want a perfect indicator of just how shameless and morally bankrupt this “reform” proposal really is? When somebody pointed out the burden on low-income people, Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams responded: “One out of seven people are on food stamps. They don’t pay taxes on food stamps.”

Nice, Senator. Nice. You’ve dutifully played the “welfare” card (wink wink), never far from the top of any deck stacked for this kind of politics.

Except that the people hurt by sales taxes are the working poor, and you damn well know it. So does every other conscience-impaired enabler of this abomination.

Lower-income working Georgians already pay almost twice the percentage of their income in state and local taxes as the top 1 percent. So let’s make that ratio even more grotesque, call it “tax reform,” and pull off the most unabashed upward redistribution of wealth since … since …

You know what? I can’t think of anything to compare it to. Alabama’s old “current use” tax shelter for high-end landowners comes close, but this might well be worse.

Speaking of Alabama, momentum is building on that side of the Chattahoochee to remove the sales tax on food. It’s being led mostly by Republicans, to undo generations of Democratic special-interest looting. Now Republicans in Georgia want to create the same kind of economic trickle-up that Democrats created and sustained in Alabama. How’s that working out?

Yeah yeah yeah, “class warfare” bla bla bla. Whatever rubber-chicken speech label you choose, we’ve heard all these smug, smirking rationalizations before. They don’t change the simple reality that people -- working people with families -- who can afford it least will pay more, and people who can afford it most will pay less.

But that’s not our problem. Are there no prisons?

Dusty Nix, 706-571-8528; dnix@ledger-enquirer.com.

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