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Think You’re Smarter Than a Tax Policy Professional?

Mike Klein

Are you frustrated with state taxation policies and absolutely convinced you’ve got better ideas?  Step right up, folks, and take a gander coming soon at Tax Reform: The Game, a new interactive web-based game that uses real-world Georgia data as its backdrop.  Plug in the numbers, change them around however you like and you will be able to design your own Georgia tax reform plan.

Tax Reform: The Game is the brainchild of Georgia Tech economics professor Christine Ries who says her internet game will make possible “tax reform of the people, by the people and for the people.”  Ries began to think about how to make real taxation data more accessible to the public after her service on the state’s 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform.  All too often, she said, it was simply too hard to obtain real data that was necessary for tax policy calculations.

“People who have never before been involved in political issues are intensely interested in becoming more involved and informed,” said Ries, who is a Georgia Public Policy Foundation senior fellow.  “When I was on the Tax Reform Council surprising numbers of Georgians from all walks of life were asking me if they could run their own calculations.  When we were able to get tax information that preserves everyone’s privacy we were able to make a game that would be available and useful for those engaged citizens.”

Ries will unveil Tax Reform: The Game during an Americans for Prosperity Foundation Georgia conference on Saturday August 25 in Kennesaw.  “Taxpayers deserve as much information as possible about how government collects and uses their money,” Ries said.  “This game will put some really important tools at their fingertips.  Now we can really have ‘no tax reform without representation.’”  The game will be available to anyone on a website that will be announced.

Christine Ries

Players will be able to create plans that raise taxes, lower taxes or keep tax revenues the same.  The game will determine how the player’s changes would affect overall state revenue.  Call that phase one which is what Ries plans to unveil at the conference.  Phase two will allow the player to demonstrate the impact of those proposed tax rates on the various income groups in the state – lower income, middle income, and higher income.  Phase three will allow the ‘tax reformer’ to look specifically at a single family or taxpayer.

Ries explained, “For instance, how would a particular reform affect the taxes paid by a family earning $75,000 per year, filing jointly with two children, itemized deductions of $30,000 per year and they live in DeKalb County?  The game will tell them how their state income and sales taxes would change.”

Bringing this level of Georgia taxation data forward into a game environment is unprecedented.  Ries said she is in discussions about how to implement Tax Reform: The Game in other states.  “Most of my fellow policy wonks that I hang around with worry about the right economic plan and they just assume that if you have the right economic plan it will get adopted,” Ries said.  “We’re learning a lot more about how you need to factor in the right political and community concerns.”

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation Georgia conference will be held in the Murray Arts Center at Mt. Paran Christian School.  Scheduled speakers include Wall Street Journal editorial board columnist Stephen Moore and several Georgia-based speakers who will discuss economics, education and energy policies.  Click here for additional information and to register.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

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August 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tax Foundation: Georgia 34th for Best Business Tax Climate

Mike Klein

This morning the conservative Tax Foundation released its comprehensive analysis of state tax structure policies that impact business growth.  The message for Georgia: We Can Do Better.  Georgia is ranked No. 34 nationally, unchanged from one year ago.  Georgia lawmakers continue to struggle with how to enact comprehensive revenue neutral tax reform.

The Tax Foundation annual report compares states against each other in five tax categories:  corporate, personal income, sales, unemployment insurance and personal property.  Georgia collects all five; some states do not.  With no personal income tax, Florida ranked fifth nationally.  Three states have no personal or corporate income taxes. Some states impose no sales tax.

The Tax Foundation wrote, “The lesson is simple: a state that raises sufficient revenue without one of the major taxes will, all things being equal, have an advantage over those states that levy every tax in the state tax collector’s arsenal.”  The Foundation ranked Georgia ninth best for corporate income tax, 12th for general sales tax, 22nd for unemployment insurance tax paid by employers, 39th for personal property tax and 40th for individual income tax.

The Tax Foundation said ten southern states rank ahead of Georgia:  Florida (5), Texas (9), Tennessee (14), Missouri (15), Mississippi (17), Alabama (20), Kentucky (22), West Virginia (23), Virginia (26) and Louisiana (32).  (By virtual of editorial discretion Missouri is included here because next year it plays Big Boy Football in the Southeastern Conference.)   Only South Carolina (36) and North Carolina (44) finished lower than Georgia among southern states.

It would be somewhat surprising if the General Assembly does not agree this year to eliminate the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing.  All the momentum is in that direction.  Governor Nathan Deal made it a priority. He also wants sales and use tax exemptions for construction materials used in what the Governor has described as “projects of regional significance.”

Much less clear is whether the Georgia Legislature can agree on changes to general sales and personal income taxes, which likely would be tied in a revenue neutral conversation.  The state unemployment taxes structure is perhaps the thorniest briar in the patch.

Georgia has borrowed $721 million from Washington since December 2009 to help pay monthly unemployment benefits.  Some perspective on that number; Georgia’s emergency fund is $328 million, less than half the amount owed to the federal government.  This year Georgia will also make a $33 million interest payment that will not reduce the principal amount.

Unemployment insurance benefits are funded by taxes on employers.  States set tax rates and they determine the maximum taxable wage base.  Georgia’s maximum tax rate is tied for lowest in the country and the wage base is almost lowest in the country.  More taxes paid by Georgia businesses and reduced unemployment benefits are both possible this year.

The Tax Foundation said last year the index was downloaded 487,000 times, cited in hundreds of news reports and mentioned by four governors in their State of the State addresses.  Here is a link to the 2012 Tax Foundation business tax climate index report.

Georgia Tech: “This Time We Are In the Room”

Michael Meyer, Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Georgia Tech’s Michael Meyer was understandably still pretty excited when we spoke this week while he attends a conference in Washington, D.C.  Meyer will coordinate the Georgia – Florida – Alabama, ten-university national transportation research center housed at Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“I’ve been at Georgia Tech for 23 years. When we won the (regional) transportation center four years ago, that was a foot in the door to let folks know we really are good at what we do,” Meyer said.  “This time we are in the room.  I’m at this conference and everyone up here is basically saying, Georgia Tech was the big winner.”

The $7 million public-private partnership brings together seven Georgia universities plus two from Florida and one from Alabama.  The project focus will be on transportation infrastructure, safety and economic development from more than just a local perspective.  That means best business practices to reduce fatalities, how to evaluate infrastructure priorities and much more.

Meyer posed his own questions:  “How do we define success.  Is it the amount of vehicles or people who can be handled?  Is it the level of satisfaction or the level of dissatisfaction?  What we have to offer is a national and international perspective on what has worked or not worked elsewhere.”  Atlanta HOT lanes – subject of recent debate – will be on the table for review.

Meyer said the immediate challenge will be coordinating researchers from the ten universities and designing their unique projects.  He noted Georgia State has an expertise in finance while the two Florida schools – Central Florida and Florida International – are noted for research into how people respond when they use driving simulators.  The project is funded for two years with half from a federal grant and half in matching funds.  The Woodruff Foundation stepped up with $300,000.  “Woodruff was a fantastic shot in the arm,” Meyer said.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HOPE Should Not Become Just Another Government Spending Program

Mike Klein

HOPE, Again:  About those reports that the HOPE scholarship could face a new economic tsunami because so many Georgia kids are qualifying for the full tuition Zell Miller Scholarship:  Really?  Are these kids nothing like the 50 percent who lose HOPE after one school year?  And if we suddenly have so many super smart kids, why do our national test scores still suffer?

New proposals are already being floated to address HOPE financial stability one year after the General Assembly thought it had bought the scholarship program some time.  While all those numbers are being crunched, perhaps someone should look at why more than half lose the scholarship after one year, two-thirds after two years and nearly three-fourths after three years.

HOPE matters.  But HOPE should not become just another government spending program.

Congratulations:  Georgia Virtual School science department chair Asherrie Yisrael has been selected as a finalist for National Online Teacher of the Year.  The award has two sponsoring entities: the Southern Regional Education Board and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Asherrie Yisrael, National Online Teacher of the Year Finalist

Yisrael was honored as the 2010 – 2011 Georgia Virtual School Teacher of the Year.  Her specialties are advanced placement physics, forensic science and physical science.  Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) is the state Department of Education online learning program resource.   It has about 10,000 students who select online courses from a broad-based curriculum.

Thirty-nine online teachers from 26 states were nominated for the SREB – iNACOL award.  The winner will be announced on March 1 during SREB’s virtual learning conference in Atlanta.  Other finalists are Leslie Fetzer from North Carolina and Tracey Seiler from South Carolina.

SREB and iNACOL established the national online teacher award two years ago.  Yisrael is the second Georgia teacher nominated.  Gabrielle Bray of Gwinnett County was nominated in 2010.

School Choice Rally: It’s looking like at least 1,500 will rally for School Choice outside the State Capitol at 10:00am Wednesday.  And perhaps the weather will cooperate — mild and partly cloudy!

Georgia legislators will address alternate authorization for charter schools during the current General Assembly.  The latest negative headlines include Gwinnett County again turning down a charter for Ivy Preparatory Academy whose students have an outstanding academic record, and Fulton County’s rejection of the Fulton Science Academy which was named a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School Award recipient by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Americans for Prosperity Georgia chapter will present screenings of its new film “Making The Grade in Georgia” hourly start at 2:00pm in the Georgia Room of the Twin Towers  office building directly across the street from the State Capitol.  Here is a link with more information.

Georgia Tax Climate:  Wednesday morning the conservative Tax Foundation will release its 2012 business climate index that measures how states compare in five categories: corporate tax, personal income tax, sales tax, unemployment insurance tax and property tax.  Data is based on tax policies as they existed last July 1 when most states began their new fiscal years.

The Tax Foundation ranking is not against any specific baseline.  States can move up or down even if they make no changes because revisions in other states can affect overall rankings.

The Tax Foundation ranked Georgia No. 34 nationally last year.  Foundation economists found 33 states with overall better business tax climates and 16 that were worse.  Georgia tax reform remains a work in progress this year after the 2011 Legislature was unable to enact reform.

Unemployment insurance tax gets less attention than it deserves.  Georgia began to borrow federal funds starting in December 2009 because the state could no longer afford to write unemployment benefit checks.  Georgia owes $721 million in principal plus tens of millions of dollars in annual interest.  Options to find repayment dollars include imposing higher taxes on employers and reducing benefits, which could mean fewer weeks, smaller checks or both.

The Tax Foundation business tax climate index will be released at 10:00am Wednesday.

Yellow Jackets 1, Volunteers 0:   Friday’s announcement that Georgia Tech will become a national tier one university transportation research center means the state made a better case than our nearest northern neighbor.  Tennessee would have located a national think tank at the Center for Transportation Research on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville.

Governor Nathan Deal announced Georgia’s plan to pursue the transportation research center initiative last May when he addressed the state Logistics Summit in Atlanta.  Georgia Tech will coordinate research by seven state universities plus three in Alabama and Florida.  Tech was also named to participate in a regional initiative coordinated by the University of Florida.

Here’s a salute to the Woodruff Foundation that provided essential local startup seed money.  The total investment for two years will be $7 million with half from the federal government.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Will Ban Illegal Immigrants From Some But Not All Universities

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents will no longer allow illegal immigrant students to attend state universities and colleges that have full enrollment.  On Wednesday the Board adopted several new policies to address illegal immigrant student population, but it also said the undocumented student population is small, just a few hundred students.

Georgia made national news this past spring when a Kennesaw State University student who had been in the country since childhood was arrested and turned over to federal authorities for deportation to Mexico. Jessica Colotl was taken into custody after a routine traffic stop. KSU, friends and numerous organizations fought for and eventually gained her temporary release.

Colotl’s high-profile story raised immediate questions about how many undocumented students are enrolled in state university system schools, whether they take classroom seats away from academically qualified citizens and whether they pay in-state or out-of-state tuition.

A study committee report approved by the state Board of Regents on Wednesday identified 501 undocumented students among more than 310,000 total registered students at USG institutions. All pay out-of-state tuition which the University System said is actually higher than real costs.

A statement from the Regents noted, “The University System follows current federal and state laws, which allows for undocumented individuals to be enrolled, if academically qualified.”

New regulations that become effective next fall will reduce access illegal immigrant students have to the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College and State University.  Those schools have full enrollments.

State universities and colleges also will be required to verify the “lawful presence” of each applicant; legal penalties could be imposed on applicants who knowingly provide false application information; and, illegal immigrant students will be required to always pay out-of-state tuition rates.

Colotl’s Facebook profile says, “Jessica Colotl, 21, is a senior at Kennesaw State University, a political science major who is now facing deportation because she came to America illegally when she was a child.”  Kennesaw State’s university relations office said it was unable to confirm that Colotl is enrolled.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summertime Blues: Will Grandpa Blast His Way Through Wii World?

This article was published by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

One person’s stimulus is another person’s wasted tax dollars.  It depends on your point of view.  There is no mistaking what Republican Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn think in their new report, “Summertime Blues : 100 Stimulus Projects That Give Taxpayers The Blues.”

The McCain – Coburn study released this week in Washington is a direct rebuttal to the White House strategy “Recovery Summer.”  Who or what recovered depends on anyone’s point of view and everyone is entitled to have one.  Certainly the Georgia economy has not recovered or the state would be doing better than 10% unemployment, higher than the national average. Continue reading

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment