According to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s official Web site, his goal is to “put Georgia at the top of national rankings for the ‘Best-Managed State in America.’ The high standards for best-managed states parallel the Perdue principles for governing a New Georgia: effectiveness, efficiency, accountability for results, and a customer-focused culture of public service.”
A customer-focused culture of public service? With hundreds of thousands of Georgia taxpayers still awaiting payment of state income tax refunds from last year, the governor must be aware the state Department of Revenue is falling well short of that goal.
There are more than 400,000 Georgians who filed their state tax returns before the April 15 deadline who have yet to receive a refund of the amount they overpaid in state taxes in 2008. The state Department of Revenue admits that it will be as late as November before it works through its backlog and all the refunds are distributed.
Gov. Perdue’s “let them eat cake” response was disappointing to say the least. He says Georgia taxpayers have been “spoiled” by timely refunds in the past. The governor seems to forget that tax refunds are not welfare checks. This money belongs to the taxpayers, not the government.
The Perdue administration’s Commissioner of Revenue, Bart Graham, offers only one excuse: his office is understaffed because of budget cuts that were ordered by none other than Gov. Perdue. In the priorities of this administration, it seems, the needs of the taxpayer always come last.
This cavalier attitude toward the taxpayers has unfortunately become all too typical in the seven years the Republican Party has been in charge of state government in Georgia — exactly the opposite of the image the GOP wants you to have.
Since taking office, Gov. Perdue and his friends in the legislature have cut approximately $2 billion in state funding to local school systems. But they did not lower your state taxes accordingly; they spent the money on other programs and tax cuts for their donors and forced your local school board to make up the difference.
Guess who ultimately got the bill, year after year: You did.
During the 2009 session of the General Assembly, Gov. Perdue and Republican leadership refused to fund the Homeowner Tax Relief Grants the state provides to local governments in order to keep property taxes down for homeowners. The result of this action will be a $200-$300 property tax increase for the average Georgia homeowner this year.
The Republican leaders and their spokespeople will argue they have passed plenty of tax cuts — for businesses and other corporate interests. We have supported most of these as well, for the purpose of economic development and fighting against the tide of manufacturing job losses in our state over the past decade. But the interests of the average individual Georgia taxpayer have unfortunately not been a high priority item on this administration’s agenda.
One in 10 Georgians sits unemployed, and this is the highest the state’s jobless rate has been in more than 20 years. Every day, the economic recession is causing more and more of our fellow citizens to lose their livelihoods, their homes and their savings accounts.
By failing to issue income tax refunds in a timely manner and passing the state’s budget problems on to local property owners, the state’s Republican leaders — who claim to be friends of the taxpayer — are not coming to the aid of their fellow Georgians. Instead, they are adding insult to injury.
Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta) is chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) is vice chair of the Senate State Institutions and Property Committee.