Cobb legislative agenda focused on tax initiatives

Cobb County’s list of legislative priorities is taking shape, and a mix of tax and fee initiatives remains at the top of the list, including a push to raise tax caps on alcohol sales.

Topping the list is a proposal pushed by Commission Chairman Tim Lee that would allow local governments to implement fractional 1 percent sales taxes and allow local jurisdictions, such as the county and school system, to split the 1 percent tax.

The plan is to keep taxes low in counties such as Cobb, where a multiyear full-1 percent sales tax is not needed to complete infrastructure projects, Lee said. Cobb voters narrowly approved a four-year SPLOST extension in March for the county and its six cities.

“I believe legislators need to give us a better tool for dealing with SPLOSTs, which I believe will be a future consideration as an alternative to property taxes for years to come,” Lee said.

The initiative would require voters to approve a change to the state constitution.

Lee’s fractional 1 percent proposal has the support of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and the county school system, which currently is in its third SPLOST extension — set to expire in 2013 — and has included the SPLOST initiative on its legislative agenda.

Cobb leaders also are lobbying to raise the amount of taxes that local governments can charge on packaged alcohol sales. The tax caps set by state law — charged by volume, not price — haven’t changed since 1981, when a 12-ounce beer cost a quarter and the tax was set at about a nickel, said Virgil Moon, Cobb’s support services director. “That same beer now costs about $3, and we’re still getting a nickel,” Moon said.

Cobb, along with the organizations representing the state’s counties and cities, supports legislation that would raise the tax cap by 50 percent. Wine and liquor taxes would increase from 22 cents per liter to 33 cents per liter.

Along with the alcohol tax, Cobb and Marietta are renewing a push for tax initiatives that stalled in the Legislature last year that would streamline sales tax collections and hotel/motel taxes.

One provision would require businesses to use the nine-digit ZIP codes when assigning sales tax rates to ensure the revenue winds up with the correct county. Using just the five-digit code, taxes paid at Cobb businesses with out-of-county addresses, such as those near I-285 with Atlanta addresses, can wind up being diverted to the wrong jurisdiction. Cobb also backs a fee to be charged in state court cases to support county court technology.

“We are trying to raise as much revenue as we can from sources other than property taxes, which are our main source of revenue,” Moon said. “If we can raise money in other areas, that means we don’t have to raise property taxes.”

The county sheriff supports raising the reimbursement costs for the county to house state inmates. The school system wants the state to pay more in employee health insurance costs and put an end to costly state education legislation that ends up becoming unfunded mandates. To collect outstanding parking ticket fees, Marietta also backs legislation to prevent drivers from renewing their vehicles if the driver has two or more city or county unpaid parking tickets.

The priorities will be presented to the county’s legislative delegation next month.