Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Monday, the Georgia General Assembly convened for the first of its 40 days. It’s clear that budget issues will dominate the early part of this session, with uncertainty in Washington threatening to delay completion of the budget and threatening to extend the legislature well into the spring.
The Governor on Monday made a move to limit the amount of budget uncertainty, proposing to convert the responsibility of issuing the “hospital bed tax” to the Department of Community Health. This would, in concept, allow lawmakers to sidestep the pledge most Republicans have made to Americans for Tax Reform not to raise taxes. Instead, lawmakers would just be delegating their constitutional authority to unelected bureaucrats.
A major current revenue stream of roughly one half billion dollars to the state treasury would be protected, Republicans would get to honor their pledge, and hospitals would be subject to taxation by a board on which they have no representation.
This is no way to govern.
Legislators who are elected to serve the people of Georgia have certain responsibilities. It’s been clear for some time that the priority of those responsibilities of those elected have become skewed, as evidenced by the number of legislators who have been begging for and receiving other state jobs which are more lucrative than the ones they asked and received the public’s trust to get.
Now to avoid breaking a pledge to another unelected player in this process, these same legislators are being asked by the Governor to cede their duty to a board appointed by him so that we can have budget certainty. Legislators should not abdicate this responsibility.
Republicans who have a hard time trying to decide if they are able to match the whims of ATR’s Grover Norquist need to ask themselves a counterbalancing test question. If this were the federal government would they so eagerly vote to give the same powers to President Barack Obama?
Frankly, that is a conceptual question any legislator of either party should ask themselves any time they are about to vote to increase the power of government or delegate authority from the legislative process to appointed bureaucrats. If a new power is to be created or delegated, would they want this power to be in the hands of their worst political enemies?
Our American system of government is that of a pendulum. Alliances change. Parties in power change. But the powers given to government – almost always passed as “temporary” measures, are never again ceded to the people. Do they want these powers they create or cede in the hands of those whom they do not trust, or who they are diametrically opposed to philosophically?
Republicans must begin to distance themselves from the inconsistent pronouncements of Norquist of what does and doesn’t constitute a tax (which is often defined by whether or not Norquist was brought in to be part of negotiations or not), and get back to determining for themselves what constitutes good public policy. Ducking tough issues and votes by abdicating responsibility entrusted by the people is shameful and a political gimmick Republicans are likely to regret.
To his credit, Norquist has already referred to the Governor’s power grab as “a step in the wrong direction.” On this we agree.
But this is also time to take on the random nature of Norquist and American Tax Reform’s policies head on. Norquist, who during the recent Fiscal Cliff negotiations proclaimed not continuing temporary tax cuts was tantamount to a tax increase, contends that extending a temporary tax here in Georgia is also a tax increase. Continuing the status quo that he likes is good. Continuing the status quo that he doesn’t like is bad.
If Republicans must find a way to placate Norquist, then slice a decimal place of the existing bed tax rate and demand it be called a tax cut. It’s equally senseless in the amount of gymnastics that politicians are willing to go through to avoid charges of increasing taxes, but Republicans may be able to sleep well at night if they renew the tax at 1.44% of hospital revenue instead of 1.45%.
At least then they could tell themselves they “cut” taxes. They wouldn’t have to tell themselves that they are too feckless and powerless to do what the people send them to Atlanta to do, and that they had to allow appointed bureaucrats to do it for them.