Groups push lawmakers to raise revenue before slashing budget

    “Due to the current predicament, there will be less, and there’s no reason to sugarcoat that,” said Sen. Blake Tillery, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We don’t hold the keys to a printing press." John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

    Three dozen groups with varying missions signed onto a letter urging the governor and state lawmakers to take steps to increase revenues before resorting to deep cuts that affect vulnerable Georgians.

    As it is, lawmakers are set to consider 11% cuts to next year’s spending plan when they return to the state Capitol Monday after a three-month break brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, which dealt a blow to state revenues and caused record unemployment in Georgia.

    Such deep cuts would “disproportionately harm communities of color and rural communities and curb the state’s ability to recover,” the letter says.

    “There’s a lot of people hurting. There’s a lot of people who are financially insecure,” said James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, which signed onto the letter and is worried about cuts across the board. “Instead of cut, cut cut, what we’re not realizing is that when we ‘cut’ we are cutting people’s livelihoods.”

    The groups offered up a few revenue-raising ideas to get lawmakers started: Hike the state’s tobacco tax up to the national average, end a double deduction for high earners and consider tossing out some of the state’s costly tax breaks.

    “Our leaders must recapture lost revenue given out through billions of dollars in special interest tax breaks and raise new revenues in order to reduce revenue shortfalls and ensure funding flows to health, education, programs for families experiencing poverty and more,” Georgia Budget and Policy Institute Senior Vice President Jennifer Owens said.

    It’s estimated that a tobacco tax increase alone could raise up to $600 million annually and ending the double deduction could boost state revenues another $175 million a year, according to GBPI. Georgia has one of the lowest tobacco tax rates in the country.

    “That’s a part of this story that I don’t think has really reached the public yet,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, referring to ways lawmakers could raise revenues. Georgia Equality, which advocates for the LGBTQ community, also signed onto the letter.

    “Everybody is aware of these cuts, but the severity of the cuts is a political choice,” Graham said.

    Graham said he is specifically concerned about a proposed cut to the Grady infectious disease clinic, which could end up costing the center about $5 million in total funding – about one-third of its budget.

    The League of Women Voters of Georgia also endorsed the letter over concerns about potential cuts to education, public health or voting services – particularly in the middle of a pandemic, says Susannah Scott, the group’s president.

    “We are concerned with any cuts that will negatively impact Georgians who are struggling to adjust to a changing economic landscape resulting from COVID-19, but given the problems witnessed around the state during Tuesday’s election, we are particularly concerned with cuts that will affect the ability of Georgia’s citizens to safely and securely vote,” Scott said.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.