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Springfield wonders if GREAT is all that good
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The Springfield City Council heard comments from state Rep. John Burns on Tuesday regarding state House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s GREAT plan.

“It’s a work in progress,” Burns said.

Mayor Barton Alderman said the council does not know much about it and because of the lack of information cannot come to a conclusion to support or oppose the plan.

Councilman Dennis Webb asked if there is a formula on how the money would be distributed.

“Would it be like local option sales tax and special local option sales tax as a percentage of retail sales,” Webb asked, “or is it a budget item where it is a fixed amount spent, and if the state comes up short it would just be a budget shortfall, but the counties and municipalities would get the same amount?”

“What about the bordering counties,” Webb asked.  “If you end up with a high percentage of sales tax, what’s that going to do to the retailers on border counties where everybody’s going to bail to bordering states?”

Burns said he is in favor of property tax relief, but not all the details have been worked out in this plan. There are good points, he said, and areas of concern.

Burns said Richardson is not concerned that a minor change in sales tax would encourage residents to go to other states to make purchases.

“There is a formula, and this is one of those things that I understand has caused a lot of heartburn for a lot of people,” Burns said. “As I understand it, the formula is still a work in progress, and that’s what makes this whole thing hard for me.”

Burns said most bills are not in concrete when they are first proposed.

“I congratulate (Richardson) in bringing this to the table and getting the citizens of this state involved, and in the end if something does happen the citizens will have the final say so in the form of a constitutional amendment,” he said.

Burns said one concern is the amount of control over the money would be in Atlanta.

“We’ve been assured there would be a set formula that could only be changed by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly,” Burns said.

He said that would assure cities, counties and school boards of the amount of money they would receive.

“According to the speaker, that would be no less than you took in revenues the previous year. They would also have a cost of inflation added to that amount, and you would also have the index for your increase in population,” Burns said.

Burns said according to the figures there would be an increase that would allow for a “rainy day fund” to be established in the event there is a drop in sales tax revenue.

Burns said as he understands it there would not be an immediate change to the income tax until after the plan has been worked through.

“The government has a plan to cut income tax on seniors,” he said.

He said everything’s on the table.

“I believe any plan that is proposed that will save our citizens taxes, tax reform for our state that allows y’all to provide the serves to run this city and the counties and school systems need to be considered,” Burns said. “We need to keep the good parts, and do away with the bad parts, and we certainly need to consider all of it. I haven’t made up my mind.”

Burns said he will be listening and studying as the bill goes through the legislative process.

“I have concerns about the money going to Atlanta and sending it back,” he said.

He told the council they need to be involved and make sure their concerns are addressed as the legislation is modified.

Burns said the SPLOST dollars will increase with the broader sales tax collection he said there is also a suggestion that some of the SPLOST funds could be used for maintenance and operation as well as capital projects.

Councilman Kenny Usher asked about the ability of local governments to issue bonds and have a property tax to pay for the bond.

Burns said there would be nothing put in place to restrict current bonds, and local governments would still have the ability to issue bonds. But there would be a higher percentage approval needed than there is currently.

“One of the things that I see a positive about in this plan or a plan like this is that Effingham and the counties that I represent are not getting the full amount of our sales taxes that we as citizens spend because we spend our money in Chatham County or Bulloch County,” he said. “They do have infrastructure costs to capture some of those taxes. This plan would eventually even out some of those inequities on where our sales tax goes.”