When the late Homer Cooper was running for election to the Clarke County Commission back before unification, he stressed the idea that all of us paying taxes to pave our roads was cheaper than each of us paying to replace our shock absorbers when they were worn out from hitting potholes.
That idea would be considered radically liberal today, but that doesn’t change the economics behind it, which is still true.
So many of our legislators have pledged not to raise taxes that we can’t carry out the basic functions of government. As Tom Crawford pointed out last week in his Capitol Impact column in Flagpole, Georgia’s governor and our legislators realize that they’ve got to do something about our roads full of potholes, our bridges in danger of collapse and Atlanta so much in gridlock that business is hurting. What’s worse, the governor and the legislators have begun to worry that if they don’t do something about roads and bridges, even Georgia’s voters might wake up to the fact that the reason they’re stuck in traffic with bad shock absorbers is because our government hasn’t spent much money on our roads in recent years.
But fixing roads costs a lot of money. Most of the state’s money comes from taxes, and the governor and the legislators have promised that they won’t raise taxes. What’s a politician to do?
House Bill 170, as Tom pointed out last week, shows the way. You basically just shuffle the deck. You’ve got the same number of cards, but the people at the table get a new hand. To raise $1 billion, the state can get half of it by taking it away from Georgia’s cities and counties, like Athens-Clarke County, which is both a city and a county. Georgia’s counties and municipalities currently raise $500 million each year through a 3 percent tax on motor fuels. If HB 170 passes as written, local governments, including Athens-Clarke County, won’t get that money anymore.
But, gee, you say. How are we going to pave our streets around here and keep from paying out a lot more for shock absorbers? That’s easy. The ACC Mayor and Commission will have to raise your taxes. But you can be thankful that Gov. Nathan Deal and our senators Bill Cowsert and Frank Ginn kept their promise not to raise your taxes, as did representatives Regina Quick and Chuck Williams. Being a Democrat, Rep. Spencer Frye didn’t have to make such a promise to get elected.
So, our governor and our Republican legislators kept the faith. It’s not their fault that the ACC government will have to raise taxes. In fact, they are no doubt shocked, shocked that local government would do such a thing.
They would probably be shocked, too, to learn how much Athens Regional Medical Center has had to cut in order to keep its doors open, how nurses have to make up beds instead of caring for patients and work double shifts to ensure that patients get any care at all. But, gosh, what can Nathan and Bill and Frank and Regina and Chuck do about that? They’re not doctors.
They’re not accountants, either. They declined to accept $8 billion in Medicaid funds that was Georgia’s share of the national Affordable Care Act largess.That money would have greatly enhanced the medical care not only of our poorest patients but all of us through its impact on Athens Regional and all the other hospitals in Georgia, some of which have already closed for lack of operating funds. That’s $8 billion for the state’s hospitals and our doctors and their patients—and our governor and our legislators would not have had to raise taxes to get that money. That’s health care jobs money, too. But of course that money is connected to, you know, Obama, so ixnay. Tainted, just like the dreaded Obamacare, for which 400,000 Georgians have already signed up, in spite of the dire warnings from our governor and our legislators.
Gov. Deal, Sen. Cowsert, Sen. Ginn, Rep. Quick and Rep. Williams are smart people with lots of experience in government. They know they’re shortchanging our citizens on roads and bridges and health care, not to mention law enforcement and education and all the services that cost less if we band together to pay for them through our taxes. Ah, there’s the rub. They can’t do anything, because they promised us they wouldn’t raise our taxes, and that really isn’t their fault, because that’s what we demand of them. We’ll die before we let them raise our taxes.