Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

To boost jobs, Ralston eyes tax reform for Georgia

Such was the state of Georgia’s economy this year that it was held up simultaneously as a sign of strength worthy of Nathan Deal’s re-election and as a sign of weakness demanding his defeat.

In the end, voters returned Deal to the governor’s mansion with almost the same vote of confidence (52.8 percent) as when they first elected him in 2010 (53 percent).

Still, no serious person would claim Georgia is hitting on all cylinders economically. The one word you can count on hearing more than “transportation” in the coming legislative session is spelled J-O-B-S.

With that in mind, I asked House Speaker David Ralston earlier this month what he foresaw in the way of proposals to boost the economy and job creation.

“When we passed the tax reform package here back in 2012, I said at that time that I did not view that as an ending, but just as a significant first step,” Ralston said in his office at the Capitol. “And that’s a discussion that I think we always need to have, and that’s a discussion that is ongoing.

“I know there are members of the House that have worked tirelessly looking at ideas, gathering data, doing economic analysis, to see what the next step might be and when would be the appropriate time to take it. And I support those efforts. I think you may well see some progress toward that next step this next session.”

As Georgia competes with neighbors and other rival states, our comparatively high top income-tax rate, for companies as well as individuals, is an area for improvement.

The 2012 reform package was more modest than the broader overhaul sought a year earlier, when revenues were still falling. The 2011 attempt was sunk not only by a slow move toward consensus on a plan (a cautionary tale for this year’s transportation effort) but by strategic sniping about the specifics by those who didn’t want reform in the first place (ditto).

Ralston indicated he won’t rush things this time, either.

“Obviously, when you talk tax reform, as we found out when we went through the other process … you have budget ramifications,” he noted. “And you have to weigh those in the mix.

“You look at the experience of other states. I know a lot people point to North Carolina, and they point to Oklahoma, and they point to maybe other states that have recently done some fairly comprehensive tax reform. But if you really research the experience of those states, it was not painless. And there are trade-offs.”

Still, he concluded, his support isn’t the question. “I think the question is timing. If it’s 2015 or ‘16, I think you’re going to see us go back and visit that in a meaningful way.”

Might we see a combination of tax reform with a transportation package? Maybe, Ralston allowed, with this caveat:

“We need to move on transportation sooner rather than later, whatever it is that we do. Tax reform … took us three sessions last time, from the creation of the tax reform council through getting it passed. And I’m not really sure that we have the luxury of waiting three years to address our transportation issues.”

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.