Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tax Policy and Tax Reform in Georgia

The Ways and Means Committee is the chief tax writing committee in the General Assembly and derives its' importance from the state Constitution that provides all revenue bills must originate in the House. The committee considers not only taxes (income, sales, ad valorem, excise, motor fuel, estate, and others), but exemptions and credits as well. I currently serve as Secretary to the full Committee and Chair of the Ad Valorem Tax Subcommittee.

Representative Jay Powell is Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and he has charged members with considering appropriate tax policy to apply to tax reform efforts in Georgia. I shared with Chairman Powell the following thoughts on the direction I would like to see tax policy and tax reform move in Georgia.:
  • No rate increase on any non-excise tax revenue source
    • No increase in the sales tax rate
  • Reduce personal income tax rates
  • Eliminate corporate income taxes
  • No tax on business inputs
  • Broaden the sales tax base
    • Provides opportunities for increased revenue at current rates
  • Reduce the number of income tax brackets
  • Adjust 'sin' taxes to the average of all states or the average of border states
    • Would result in a reduction in some tax rates and an increase in others ultimately resulting in a neutral tax policy for Georgia as compared to other states with regard to 'sin' taxes.
  • No fees on property tax bills
    • Generates an estimated $6 - $8 million in revenue to the state and acts as a 'governor' on local governments raising taxes and fees.
  • No new local sales taxes and/or increases in existing caps
  • Eliminate certain credits / exemptions - based on return on investment analysis; will result in revenue
  • Sunset all credits / exemptions - likely will result in revenue over time
  • New credits by refund ONLY once documented achieving goals - likely to result in revenue over time
  • Policy should benefit maximum number of taxpayers possible
  • Policy does NOT incentivize government assistance
  • Policy does NOT drive market behavior and/or create new private sector profit opportunities
    • i.e.: marketable tax credits
  • Recognize our bond rating is the result of sound fiscal policy and should not dictate policy
Obviously, there are many more considerations and the devil is in the details of any piece of legislation, however, these are the broad concepts I believe would serve Georgians well with regard to our tax policy and tax reform. 

I welcome your comments.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Capitol Update Week 11 - Two days remain

Two days remain in the 2015 Session
Tuesday and Thursday this week are the final voting days of the 2015 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Before mentioning what remains, please find a brief update on several items voted this past week.
On the way to the Governor these bills received final passage:
SR 287 and SB 133 proposed by Governor Nathan Deal provide via voter referendum a Constitutional Amendment to create an Opportunity School District to address chronically failing schools. I voted YES and in November 2016 you will have the opportunity to vote on this measure as well.
On Thursday the House and Senate Insurance Committees reached an agreement to provide Autism coverage for children age 6 and under. (Has not received final passage yet, however, should be on the way to the Governor next week.)
HB 1 passed the Senate and Governor Deal signed the bill into law on Friday beginning the process of providing medical cannabis oil for treatment of several debilitating conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, and sickle cell disease.
HB 57 the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act making it easier and more affordable for homeowners to generate solar power for their homes.
SB 63 the Beer Jobs Bill permits visitors to breweries and distilleries to leave with ‘souvenirs’ that may include up to 72 oz of beer or 750 ml of spirits. Brewpubs may choose to offer cans and bottles as well.
Remaining issues that may or may not make it to the finish line this year:
SB 129 the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act will be heard again Monday at 10 a.m. in the House Judiciary Committee.
HB 535 the Brunch Bill providing local governments the ability to expand Sunday sales hours for restaurants, brewpubs, and hotels.
Hey Dad, look who I met this week!
Falcon greats Tommy Nobis and Jeff Van Note
Former Atlanta Falcon greats
Tommy Nobis (Mr. Falcon) and Jeff Van Note.
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As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state Capitol.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0254 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at brett.harrell@house.ga.gov.Thank you,
Brett_Signature
Brett Harrell

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 Capitol Update Week 9 - Ten Yeas and Ten Nays

Ten Yeas and Ten Nays to recap Week 9 - Crossover Week

What a week! By my colleague Rep. Buzz Brockway's count, the House considered 119 bills last week including 57 on Friday - Crossover Day. I will briefly mention twenty - ten I voted in favor and ten I voted against on the House floor. Should you have a question about a particular bill and/or my vote, whether mentioned here or not, please send me an email at Brett@VoteHarrell.com or give me a ring on my cell at 404-966-5804.

Before I mention the bills, the best part of the week was a visit to the Capitol by my parents.
Bobby, Vivian, and Brett Harrell
Bobby, Vivian, and Brett Harrell

Yea! I voted YES on these bills:

HB 17 the Hidden Predator Act provides expanded ability for those suffering from sex abuse to confront their perpetrator. Passed 169 - 2.

HB 110 would expand the sale of fireworks in Georgia to include a significantly larger number of products. Passed 119 - 49.

HB 152 by Rep Geoff Duncan narrowly targets high alcohol service establishments by restricting employment and/or entry to those 21 or older. I sincerely appreciate Rep Duncan allowing me to participate in drafting a revised bill limiting unintended consequences and targeting just those that are most likely to serve underage patrons. Passed 157 - 12.

HB 209 provides additional information and notification to parents regarding Georgia's Special Needs Scholarships. Passed 168 - 4. Congrats to my seatmate, freshman Rep Wes Cantrell, on passage of his first bill.

HB 221 that I authored provides that tax assessors must consider rent limitations when valuing properties financed through low interest loan programs and targeting low-to-moderate income individuals. Passed 169 - 0.

HB 225 the Uber bill is a compromise supported by all parties - Uber, Lyft, Taxis, and Limos on insurance, taxation, background checks and more. Passed 160 - 10.

HB 268 provides for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse by medical, school, and law enforcement personnel. Passed 172 - 0.

HB 393 the Tesla bill is a compromise supported by all parties - Georgia's auto dealers and manufacturers to permit expanded sales within Georgia by the Tesla auto company. Passed 170 - 3.

HB 470 the Pharmacy Audit Bill of Rights provides protection for your local, independent pharmacy too often forced to sell below cost by nationwide pharmacy benefit management firms that set pricing and reimbursement rates. Passed 168 - 0.

HB 535 the Brunch Bill that I authored allows cities and counties that have already authorized Sunday sales at restaurants to extend serving hours to as early as 10:30 a.m. Nearly 4,000 Georgia restaurants sell beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday today. The additional two hours may generate nearly $100 million in additional taxable sales. Passed 121 - 47.

Nay! I voted NO on these bills:

HB 3 the Todd Gurley bill establishes penalties for private individuals that seek to profit from adults that know the rules. I voted NO, the bill passed 145 - 27.

HB 131 establishes an overly broad definition of Cyberbullying that will be difficult to enforce and I fear result in no measurable decrease in bullying activity. I voted NO, the bill passed 140 - 26.

HB 154 proposed to increase contempt fines in local Magistrate Courts from $200 to $500. I voted NO and the bill failed 76 - 90.

HB 238 provides a $750,000 sales tax refund for a construction project at the Georgia Aquarium. As introduced, the refund was unlimited; arguing against the measure in the Ways & Means Committee the cap of $750,000 became the compromise. I still voted NO on the floor, the bill passed 142 - 28.

HB 279 provides substantial raises for Judges. Gwinnett County does not qualify as local judges exceed the threshold established in the bill for additional compensation. That said, the raises are excessive not only in dollar amounts, but in putting Georgia among the highest paid in the nation for a number of positions. Just emerging from a recession with pay lagging for many is not the time to raise compensation for those well above the average household income. I voted NO, the bill passed 142 - 21.

HB 308 provides a $5 million income tax credit to a single hotel project in Savannah and up to $25 million income tax credits for historic rehabilitation projects across the state. As a member of the Ways & Means Committee, I worked to reduce the credit from the original $25 million requested for the hotel project and $60 million statewide to the lower values. I still voted NO on the floor as I believe the project is viable without the tax credits, the bill passed 147 - 22.

HB 338 establishing an additional tack-on fee to traffic citations to fund technology improvements for local law enforcement that would reduce costs. I have fought this measure for four years and the House soundly defeated it by a vote of 39 - 127.

HB 428 provides a $350,000 sales tax refund to the Atlanta Zoo for an expansion project. I worked in the Ways & Means Committee to place the cap on the refund, as the bill originally introduced was unlimited. I still voted NO on the floor as I believe the project is viable without the tax credits, the bill passed 147 - 22.

HB 439 established the New Market Tax Credit program in Georgia modeled after a Federal program that may provide up to $120 million in funds via the Insurance Premium Tax for projects targeting primarily rural Georgia. I voted NO. If our Insurance Premium Tax is generating that much surplus to invest elsewhere, we ought to cut the tax rather than incentivize private development. The bill passed 151 - 18.

HB 510 establishes the Georgia Sports Commission Fund creating a new Board and new revenues to invest in attracting sporting events to Georgia. Hey, I love sports too, but how does the proper role of government include sports? I voted NO, the bill passed 147 - 21. Expect a new board and more of your money going to wealthy sporting programs soon.


As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state Capitol.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0254 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at brett.harrell@house.ga.gov
  
 Thank you,
Brett_Signature
 Brett Harrell  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

2015 Capitol Update Week 8 - Transportation and Brunch

HB 170 the Transportation Funding Act

The "big" bill this week was HB 170 the Transportation Funding Act. As a member of both the House Transportation and Ways & Means Committees, I have been actively involved in the discussions regarding funding our future transportation investments. Prior to reaching the floor, Representative Rich Golich offered a Rules Committee amendment to reduce the state excise tax rate in Gwinnett, Cherokee, and Cobb counties to adjust for local option tax differences. I co-signed the amendment; however, the Rules Committee voted to exclude it from the bill. 

The floor vote on HB 170 occurred on Thursday and involved four separate votes - I voted YES on each measure.

After Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts presented HB 170, Majority Leader Larry O'Neal offered an amendment to reduce the state excise tax rate from 29.2 cents to 24 cents per gallon. I voted YES to the reduction; however, the motion failed 77 - 94. 

Representative Ed Setzler then offered an amendment to require a referendum of voters within any county that intended to construct any new fixed guide-way transit system (i.e. - rail line). I voted YES to require a referendum; however, the motion failed 84 - 87. 

After both floor amendments failed, Majority Whip Matt Ramsey motioned to table HB 170. I voted YES to table the bill; however, the motion failed 56 - 111.

On House passage of HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act I voted YES

Reasoning in support of my YES vote on HB 170

HB 170 included numerous policy positions I advocated for; therefore, I supported keeping the bill 'alive' by sending it to the Senate. This most certainly was not our last vote on the issue - I reserve my right to vote 'No' on the final bill.

What does HB 170 include that I believe is the right course for Georgia's future? 

  • Georgia will no longer 'divert' funds collected on motor fuel to other spending. By converting to a state excise tax, the state will spend all motor fuel taxes on transportation.
     
  • Georgia began shifting debt service from the Department of Transportation budget to the General Fund budget under the FY 2016 budget when issuing $210 million in transportation bonds.
     
  • Ways & Means advanced and HB 170 included elimination of the $45 million electric vehicle tax credit as well as the $25 million jet fuel sales tax exemption.
     
  • Alternative fuel vehicles that paid little or nothing toward road maintenance incur an annual $200 fee under HB 170.
     
  • Converting to an excise tax on motor fuel allows Georgia to participate in the International Fuel Tax Agreement that may generate up to $60 million in new revenue by removing an incentive for our trucking industry to make fuel purchases outside the state.
At the end of the day, transportation is a core, Constitutional government function rightly funded via taxation. Though the House has thus far supported a tax increase for transportation, I am also working daily to eliminate unnecessary spending, special exemptions, credits, and reduce taxation. 

On that note, the House is considering two income tax reduction measures - HB 435 and HB 445 

Income Tax Cuts - HB 435 and HB 445

Representative B. J. Pak of Lilburn and I introduced HB 435 this week that wouldreduce the top state income tax bracket from 6% to 5.25% by eliminating all itemized deductions save charitable contributions and mortgage interest up to $20,000 per year.

Representative John Carson of Marietta introduced HB 445 that would reduce the top state income tax rate further to 4% by increasing the statewide sales tax to 5% and imposing that tax on a greater number of goods and services including food.

I do not anticipate either bill will become law this year, however, I believe it is well past time the General Assembly begins the discussion on reducing income taxes for all Georgians.

My letter of January 23, 2015 advocating for increased transportation funding and state income tax cuts. 

On a lighter note - HB 535 the Brunch Bill

My week ended with the Regulated Industries Committee unanimously passing HB 535the Brunch Bill that permits local governments, already allowing Sunday alcohol sales, to expand the serving hours to 10:30 a.m. The Georgia Restaurant Association anticipates nearly 4,000 of the 17,000 restaurants in Georgia would benefit from passage of this legislation.

If there is a bill or issue that is important to you or your family, send me a quick email at Brett@VoteHarrell.com and let me know your opinion.  


Committee calendars

House committee meeting calendar:

Senate committee meeting calendar:

As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state Capitol.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0254 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at brett.harrell@house.ga.gov

Thanks for allowing me to serve,

Brett