The candidates appeared on stage together Tuesday night for a candidate forum, sponsored by the Carroll County Tea Party. They are scheduled to appear again on Oct. 15 at a League of Women Voters Carrollton-Carroll County forum.
The four candidates on the Nov. 6 special Republican primary ballot are Mike Dugan, a Carrollton general contractor; former House Rep. Bill Hembree, a Winston insurance agent; Jim Naughton, a Carrollton business consultant; and Glenn Richardson, a Hiram attorney and former speaker of the Georgia House.
James Camp, a Libertarian candidate from Temple, was also in the forum. He qualified to run against the Republican primary winner in the Jan. 8 special general election. The voting is to fill the Senate seat vacated by Carrollton Republican Bill Hamrick, who resigned to accept a Superior Court judicial seat.
Richardson, who was the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction before resigning amid controversy, tried unsuccessfully to eliminate property taxes and create a “fair tax” plan, based on consumption taxes.
“We shouldn’t be taxing people’s houses, where they sleep,” Richardson said Tuesday. “We shouldn’t be taxing static accumulation of wealth.”
Richardson said the current state tax system dates back to the early 1900s, when property was taxed because most had good farms with good crops. He said his 21st Century tax system would replace both property and state income taxes.
“We’d then have one tax in Georgia, a consumption tax,” he said.
But, he said, changing tax laws is a difficult process, as he learned from his attempts in the House.
“When you start talking about taxing something that hasn’t been taxed, people come out of the woodwork, saying, ‘don’t tax me’,” he said. “So many groups just zoom in and say, ‘don’t eliminate property tax and don’t eliminate sales tax.’ I tried to end property taxes and every city and school district came after me.”
Hembree said he believes in the concept of “fair tax” because it’s a consumption tax that’s fair to everybody.
“No matter where you’re from or whatever you do, you’re going to buy something, so it’s fair to everybody,” Hembree said. “I believe, somehow, we need to do away with income tax and try to establish a fair tax.”
He said he drafted a bill to do that, years ago. “We need to get that motivation going further, to do what we can.”
Hembree cited some of the tax changes that the General Assembly was able to do in recent sessions.
“We eliminated the birthday tax this year, the ad valorem tax on cars,” he said. “There’s also no more energy tax. We eliminated the marriage penalty on income tax and set a retirement income exclusion up to $130,000.”
Hembree said he voted for a taxpayers bill of rights in the 1990s, “back in the day when you could put all 15 House Republicans in a phone booth.”
“We’re down there now, trying to do the right things in tax reform,” he said. “We just need to do more.”
Naughton called for looking at a total of all taxes and spending.
“We need to look at a sum total on all these taxes,” he said. “Are we spending more or are we spending less? The answer is to spend less.”
Naughton said there’s no way “to tax ourselves to prosperity.”
Dugan noted that nine states in the U.S. have no income tax at all, with two of them, Tennessee and Florida, on Georgia’s borders. He added that Tennessee has the Tennessee Valley Authority and Florida has tourism generating tax money.
“For years, we’ve been talking about having a fair tax,” Dugan said. “Every year, we talk about doing away with income tax. It’s time to stop talking about it and do something about it.”
Camp stated a common Libertarian theme, “This (tax) money belongs to you, not the government.” He said the current Georgia tax code was based on the early 1900s economy and we need to amend it to work with current economic trends.
“There’s several states around Georgia that have no income tax and they’re putting Georgia to shame by creating a fertile environment for attracting business,” he said. “Let’s eliminate the income tax and replace it with a consumption based tax. A fair tax would relieve a heavy tax burden on businesses and consumers alike. Consumers would only be taxed on what they could afford to spend. Also, by creating a tax code, consumers would control revenue and not government. It would force government to be more fiscally minded in spending your money.”