Georgians Push Lawmakers to Take Action on Tax Policy; an Angry Public Demands Accountability and Rewriting of Codes

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA -- Polish the pitchfork, fire up the torches, and join the revolt preparing to storm the Bastille.

That's the impression from several corners of the state about the public's mood. Voters already steamed about the recession, rising unemployment and corporate bailouts are growing angry about taxes, too.

News that one in 10 Georgia lawmakers is a repeat violator of tax laws has fueled a call for a rewrite of the state's tax code. And it's not just conservatives who feel that way.

When a series of President Barack Obama's appointees to senior posts revealed they hadn't paid their taxes, the anger grew. When the Georgia Department of Revenue distributed a list of outstanding taxes owed by 19 unnamed legislators, frustration boiled further.

Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, is the only one of 46 legislators -- whose districts are near Augusta, Athens, Savannah and Glynn County -- who is publicly known. That's because his legislative pay is garnished and the state has a lien on his house.

The rest of the group, when surveyed by the Times-Union, said they were current, including Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, who has had tax issues in the past that became public.

FANNING THE FLAMES

Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, poured gasoline on the issue March 3 when he announced he would seek a change in Senate rules to punish legislators for not filing. Johnson's proposition was a rush job, though, taking advantage of a provision that requires action within 48 hours of any proposed rule change.

Senators felt trapped. They said on the Senate floor that it was hastily drafted, and privately they said he was pressuring them for the sake of his campaign for lieutenant governor next year.

They defeated his proposal without a recorded vote. But if they intended to teach Johnson a lesson, they got one themselves from voters in the form of e-mails, blogs, phone calls and editorials.

So, on the next legislative day, Tuesday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed another resolution by Johnson to create a commission of 18 appointees to offer ideas for tax reform. But that didn't stop the public's complaining.

So, Thursday, the Senate took his original idea and tacked it onto another bill to make it a matter of law that any legislator who didn't file tax returns would be subject to investigation by the House or Senate ethics committees. …