Columbus Council did not vote Tuesday night to phase out the Columbus Consolidated Government's property tax assessment freeze. The city doesn't have that authority. In Georgia (and, for that matter, in Alabama) a city doesn't even have the authority to let its own citizens vote on such things. First it must ask the state's permission.
What council did was vote to ask the local legislative delegation to ask the whole legislature to approve letting Columbus ask its voters in the November general election whether they want to phase out the freeze.
Something else council tried to approve back in October, only to have it kicked back from Atlanta by the general counsel for the General Assembly, was a companion clause to the proposed freeze "thaw" -- namely, that in addition to preserving the locked-in assessment for all property owners who currently enjoy it, the referendum, if passed, would also raise the local homestead exemption an additional $6,500.
But the legislature's lawyer said that might be a problem because of two separate issues in a single ballot question. Whether striking the homestead exemption increase from the referendum was primarily a legal or a political maneuver is an obvious and reasonable question. In either case it takes a material incentive, at least for now, out of the equation.
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So a tax issue specific to Columbus, one that should be decided exclusively by Columbus citizens, has been fundamentally rewritten in Atlanta and now heads back to Atlanta for state approval a second time.
It's just the latest example of why the familiar phrase "local legislation" is, in every civic and practical sense, a glaring oxymoron.
Reports ranking Georgia near the top in various "misery indexes" and near the bottom of most surveys of public well-being are hardly a novelty, and the just-released "State of the States" analysis by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress doesn't break the pattern. (Similar studies by conservative organizations yield similar results. The numbers really don't lie.)
The stats might vary slightly from year to year, and from survey to survey, but they're drearily consistent. In this one, for instance, 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the nation's seventh-worst rate, and fifth-worst in children (more than a fourth) living in poverty, and so on.
Such problems are older than anyone now living, and nobody in public service, elected or otherwise, bears the blame for them.
But as lawmakers waste taxpayers' time and money crafting and passing silly ideological legislation to "solve" problems that don't exist, it might be helpful -- not to mention a genuine definition of public service -- to expend just a little more energy on the ones that do.