At the last minute, tax “reform” might be passed by Georgia legislature — including sales tax on online purchases

[UPDATE: Click here for a more recent post on this subject.]

The most important business conducted in this year’s Georgia legislative session might be wrapped up at almost the last minute. It looked for the last two and a half months that the state would not make major changes to the tax code, and now a comprehensive bill is moving forward quickly with only days remaining in the session.

Clearly, whether the bill passes or not, Georgians are not getting sufficient time to consider it and discuss it.

I have the word “reform” in quotation marks because I’m not sure there’s any real tax reform here — it’s a shifting of burdens that’s going to be hard to get a good handle on if we don’t have more time for responsible analysis of the impacts.

There seems to be a good summary of changes in the AJC’s Fast-moving tax overhaul bill could get vote Tuesday. From that piece:

Republican leaders are hoping to push legislation through the General Assembly this week that would touch most Georgia taxpayers by lowering taxes for married couples, people who buy cars from dealers and back-to-school shoppers.

It would make people pay sales taxes when they buy over the Internet, impose a new fee on people who buy cars from individuals and cap the amount of some money retirees can shield from income taxes.

Republicans released the proposal — which also would provide tax breaks for manufacturers, agribusinesses and airlines — Monday morning and planned to force a vote Tuesday in the House.

And this:

Projections from House Bill 386 from 2013 to 2015

Here are some major gains in state revenue proposed in the bill:

  • Car title fees: $503 million
  • Retirement income exclusion cap: $91.7 million
  • Internet sales: $47.7 million
  • Film Sales Tax Exemption: $35.8 million

Here are some major losses in state revenue proposed in the bill:

  • Exemption for married couples: 362.6 million
  • Energy tax exemption $167.4 million
  • Sales tax holiday: $81.1 million
  • Construction material exemption: $63 million
  • Jet fuel exemption: $55.2 million
  • Agricultural exemptions: $42.4 million

Source: Fiscal Research Center, Georgia State University

It’s worth noting that Georgia law already requires sales taxes be paid for online purchases, but those are to be reported and paid by consumers. This new bill would require those taxes be levied at the time of purchase, as I understand it.

There are lots of other serious issues here, especially the additional taxes on high-earning retirees, which might make the state less of a destination for older Americans of means.

And why should married couples and not single people get a big tax break?

Lots of questions, and very little time for discussion, much less firm answers.