Last week I attended a speaker series at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta at which Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue spoke. As this speech was given at a university, Governor Perdue took the opportunity to give more of a motivational talk about the importance of trust. He spoke much about the importance of trust in politicans and how trust begins with those around you and then ripples outward into other relationships.
I can’t help but think about this speech as a brewing controversy develops over state legislation that passed this past session that saved Governor Perdue $100,000 in taxes. As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
[Rep. Larry] O’Neal, a Republican from Warner Robins, spent about two minutes that night — March 29, 2005 — discussing House Bill 488, a lengthy, 28-section measure. The bill, among other things, was designed to allow Georgians to delay paying state taxes on land they sell in Georgia if they buy similar property in another state. He mentioned a last-minute change, which would make the tax break retroactive to land sales made in 2004.
And just like that, Gov. Sonny Perdue saved an estimated $100,000 in state taxes.
The governor signed the bill into law on April 12, 2005 — three days before taxes were due. Then he took advantage of the tax break on his 2004 tax return, according to his staff.
Without the backdated tax break, the governor would have had to pay taxes on money he made in 2004 by selling property he owned in Georgia. Later that year, he used $2 million in proceeds from the sale of that Georgia land to buy 19.51 acres near Florida’s Walt Disney World.
Like many political scandals, this one is hard to follow and impossible to state unequivocally that Perdue is in the wrong here. The circumstances are certainly suspicious but we don’t convict people in this country on suspician.
That being said, this appears to be a perfect case for Governor Perdue to earn some trust and to show his character, which he spoke much about last week. Perdue could diffuse this situation by returning the tax savings to the state and stating that while he had done nothing wrong in taking advantage of the tax break, that he would return the money so as to avoid any appearance of impropriety. It isn’t like Perdue can’t afford the $100,000. Afterall, what is trust and character worth.
Of course, many Democrats who are criticizing the Governor over this issue are no more trustworthy. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reported about the legislators who passed this bill:
Lawmakers call the end of each legislative session the “dangerous hour,” because they often don’t have time to read everything before casting votes. Small committees of legislators — called conference committees — bring rewritten legislation before the House and Senate, and lawmakers place their trust in colleagues presenting the bills to let them know what’s going on.
So legislators like [Democratic State Rep. Don] Wix, who figured something was up, still voted for it. So did longtime House Ways & Means Committee member Jeanette Jamieson (D-Toccoa), who runs a tax service. “It was so obvious the way it was written that it was slid in there in a way where it would be considered at the busiest time,” she said. “I accepted what was said from the well. I recognized it probably was a tax bill for somebody.”
After reading in the AJC that Perdue benefited from the change, Jamieson, the 22-year legislator said, “I was disappointed in the way it was handled. We had just blindly passed a major tax break for the governor.”
Shame on Jamieson and Wix!!! Are you kidding me? Jamieson admits right here that she figured that this bill was a tax bill for someone but she voted for it anyways. Do the people of Toccoa, Georgia know this about their state representative?
I’m not sure how Georgia Democrats can assail Governor Perdue about a bill that appears to have been tailored to save him money when their own state representatives voted for it without dissent.
This is actually a sad story about the overall lack of trust that I believe most voters feels towards their elected officials. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. Until people vote with their, um, vote, there is little chance that we will ever start trusting politicians again.
Crossposted at Good Will Hinton