Now What?

One of the reasons Georgians fear when the Legislature meets may best be seen in the changes made in the way you now must pay taxes on your automobiles.

Becoming effective March 1, 2013 was the Title Ad Valorem Tax legislation. Its prime purpose, enacted in state after state by hard-core conservatives, was to eliminate the so-called “birthday tax” of paying ad valorem taxes to counties each year. The tax was due in recent years before your birthday, so it got called a “birthday tax.”

Georgia State Capitol via Wikimedia CommonsThat “birthday tax” date for paying your taxes was not a bad way to collect them. Previously, Georgia law said that ad valorem taxes on your automobiles were due by March 31 of each year. Since people are people, auto owners waited until near that deadline. The result was that people jammed the tag offices, with long lines sometimes stretching onto the street, to pay their tax before a penalty for missing the deadline was imposed.

The Georgia Legislature, then in its wisdom, spread out the date the tax was due until the auto owner’s birthday. It helped eliminate the long lines at the tag office near the end of March. Taxpayers, in general, applauded the Legislature for improving the situation.

But watch out. Some politicians will jump at any change to get attention.

Seeking headlines, some legislators sought to win approval of their voters by eliminating the so-called “birthday tax.” It made it sound like you were simply taxed for getting older, never mentioning you were paying a reasonable tax on your possession, an auto. Yet this movement away from the “birthday tax” isn’t particularly helpful to most taxpayers, we are finding, who now are howling left and right about this new way to tax people.

It’s the “unintended consequences” of this new way to tax that the legislators failed to consider when rushing it through. In effect, the legislators never recognized what would happen to people moving into Georgia. (And you remember Georgia is a healthy “growth” state, compared to many others.)

If a family consisting of two driver-age kids moved to Georgia, guess what would greet them of arrival. They would, under the Title Ad Valorem Tax, have to pay 6.5 percent within 30 days on all the automobiles they owned.

Let’s say this family had two rather new, and two older, vehicles. Perhaps the newer vehicles were worth $20,000 each and the older ones $5,000 each. Added all up, that’s $50,000 worth of vehicles. So, on arrival in Georgia within 30 days, the family must pay a “welcome tax” of $3,250 ($50,000 x .065), BEFORE they can even apply to pay the smaller auto tag fee!

You call that the “Halt Economic Development” aspect of bringing in new firms and their people. See. We told you that the legislators didn’t think this tax out.

One reason for this new Title Tax is so that “casual sales” between individuals would also be taxed, where before most did not pay sales tax. The state maintains that about 60 percent of all auto sales are “casual” and previously have gotten around paying sales taxes.

There must have been a better method to eliminate this oversight.

You get the idea. Re-writing laws, no matter what, often dramatically results in what is not intended. That’s why we propose having the Legislature meet every other year, instead of annually. At least it would cut the time for them to do damage in half.

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Editor's note: This story originally published at the GwinnettForum.com. Image: Image: Georgia State Capitol via Wikimedia Commons.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.