published Monday, April 13th, 2009

Georgia: ‘Birthday’ tax retension unpopular


by Beverly Carroll
Audio clip

Carolyn Williams

The Georgia “birthday tax” on automobiles is so unpopular that some city and county officials said any revenue lost from killing the fee would be offset by the relief for taxpayers.

“It is unbelievably high,” Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart said of the annual tax, which generally is due on a car owner’s birthday. “If I had my way, I’d do away with it. It would be a hit (on county revenues) but not to the degree we couldn’t adjust.”

The Georgia House of Representatives voted 133-39 for a bill that killed ad valorem and sales taxes on autos. The bill substituted a 7 percent title fee capped at $2,000 that would be levied each time the car was sold.

Backers said the bill could raise $450 million in new revenue next year and said $100 million to $150 million would go toward the state’s injured trauma care network. They also said it would bring in new revenue by taxing person-to-person sales as well as dealer sales.

Opponents said the bill would reduce local revenues and that the $2,000 cap favors buyers of more-expensive cars.

The Senate tabled the bill on the last day of the session, April 1.

Rep. Jay Neal, R-Chickamauga voted for the change and said it’s likely the bill will be revived in 2010.

“I think there’s a lot of interest, certainly among the voters, in seeing us do away with the tax,” Rep. Neal said. “There were issues that needed to be addressed, but I think it’s something we need to look at further and make it better.”

Walker County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Williams said the bill as written would create a processing nightmare in her office. She said she’d have to hire more people or reduce services.

“The law would not affect cars sold before 2010, so if you owned your car before that, you would still have to pay the annual tax,” Ms. Williams said. “We could have three people in line all with a Chevrolet Malibu and have three different situations. Service would slow down.”

Auto dealer Chris Harris said he favors the proposal because it levels the sales-tax playing field.

“I have to collect it,” said Mr. Harris, of Harris Auto Mall on Battlefield Parkway. “If I have someone on the lot looking at a car and they say, ‘I can go buy that car from someone who’ll let me have it for less,’ I can’t compete with that.”

Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the governor was interested in learning more about the bill. The legislation came up late in the session and got lost when it got tabled, he said.

“He was positive about bringing in (person-to-person) casual sales. That’s an area that slips through the system,” Mr. Brantley said. “He was waiting to see how the numbers worked out and the money for the trauma care. I don’t know if the numbers were really there.”

Mr. Brantley said the governor will follow up on his concerns if the bill is brought back next year.

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