Next Tuesday, Nov. 4, Georgians will head to the polls to vote in what could be one of the most competitive elections in the state’s modern history. But you may be unaware that the most lasting legacy you can create for the state is how you vote on Constitutional Amendment A, sometimes described as the tax cap amendment. If approved, the ballot measure changes Georgia’s constitution to cap the state’s top income tax rate at 6 percent forever, barring the unlikely removal of the restriction in a future vote.
The tax cap amendment is deceptively appealing, but Georgians should cast a wary eye at their ballot and vote no. Here’s why:
The amendment’s tax cap blocks future generations of Georgians from meeting the needs of our rapidly growing state. Income taxes are one of the main tools at hand for Georgia lawmakers to meet the needs of taxpayers, and those needs have multiplied in recent decades. Georgia’s current leadership has proven unwilling to enact sensible tax policies designed to meet those challenges, leading to overcrowded classrooms, congested roads and one of the most underfunded health systems in the country. That trifecta scares away high-wage businesses and makes Georgia a less attractive place for workers, families and entrepreneurs to locate.
Future Georgians might be willing to strike a better balance, embracing an uptick of income taxes in exchange for fully-funded education or building a modern transportation system. Voting for the tax cap amendment takes that option off the table forever.
Capping income taxes could shift taxes to the middle class and poor families in the long run. Georgia will someday need a way to raise more revenue to meet the state’s growing needs. That much is inevitable. But capping the income tax will change the math of who pays for those new revenues. Sales taxes, excise fees and other sources of revenue are paid disproportionately by low-wage and middle-class workers, whereas income taxes fall more on the wealthy. That means deemphasizing income taxes shields the wealthiest Georgians from paying their fair share and will likely raise taxes on most Georgia families long-term.
Changing the constitution is risky and could lead to unintended consequences. An affirmative vote on the amendment makes Georgia the first state to ever cap its income tax through the constitution. The long-term effects of taking that step are unpredictable. One possible drawback is it could jeopardize Georgia’s stellar AAA bond rating, since national rating agencies tend to penalize states with limited ability to meet future obligations. Colorado, California and other states enacted different forms of tax and budget restrictions in recent years but now regret it. Capping income taxes could also make it harder for Georgia to respond in the future to a natural disaster, deep recession or some other extraordinary event.
A vote to cap the state income tax might seem appealing at first blush. But at second glance, it should become clear that it does nothing to clear a path to prosperity for Georgia businesses or families. It is an ill-considered restriction that could haunt Georgia for many years to come.