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Crawford: Diogenes would feel lost at state Capitol
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The Blitz: West Hall at Gainesville

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The Greek philosopher Diogenes, as the story goes, was known to walk around Athens during the day with a lamp and tell people that he was "looking for an honest man."

Diogenes would be looking for quite a while if he walked through some areas of the state Capitol, where facts are often bent, twisted and mutilated in the pursuit of a political goal.

He might have paused, however, if he had cast his lamp light on A.D. Frazier, who has emerged as one of the most honest people in Georgia politics.

Frazier has had a distinguished career in business that includes stints as head of the Chicago Stock Exchange, chief operating officer of the 1996 Olympic Games and as a top executive with several companies in the financial arena. He was a fitting choice last year to lead a Tax Reform Council created by the legislature to analyze the state's tax structure and recommend changes to improve it.

Frazier, along with the other business leaders and economists on the tax council, spent six months holding hearings around the state and reviewing the provisions of the state's unwieldy tax code.

They put together a set of recommendations that would give Georgia a flatter tax system. One of the major recommendations was that legislators eliminate the dozens of special interest tax breaks they have doled out to lobbyists like jellybeans from an Easter basket.

Legislative leaders had asked the Tax Reform Council to reduce the corporate income tax rate and spread the sales tax over a wide range of services. This lower income tax, they said, would result in more businesses moving to Georgia instead of other states.

When lawmakers gathered in Athens last December for their biennial Legislative Institute, Frazier stood before the assemblage and told them something that many didn't want to hear: the truth.

While the Tax Reform Council's plan included the lower corporate income tax rate they had requested, Frazier told legislators it would have very little impact on the state's ability to attract new business.

"It's just not a factor," Frazier said of the corporate income tax. "Taxes are not among the top five reasons why businesses move here. The corporate income tax is not nearly the driver in business decisions to locate here as we thought."

Such things as public education, infrastructure and quality of life are factors that figure more heavily into corporate relocation decisions, he said. He noted that our state "ranks almost last" in funding for K-12 education.

Frazier reminded legislators that Georgia currently was "49th in the country in terms of state taxes per capita." If 48 other states already impose heavier taxes than you do, how much of a difference will it make to lower your tax rates by another point or two?

Frazier also struck at that most sacred of cows, the special interest tax breaks and exemptions that legislators adopt with such frequency.

"Some of them don't make a heck of a lot of sense in today's economy," he said. "Anytime you give someone a business tax credit, someone else is paying the tax that business does not pay."

It's important to remember that Frazier is not some left-wing San Francisco hippie who wants to redistribute all wealth from upper-income families to welfare recipients. He's an experienced business leader with an impressive resume of achievements. He knows how business people think because he is one.

Frazier's message, of course, fell on deaf ears. When the current legislative session convened, most of the recommendations from the Tax Reform Council — especially the one recommending an end to special tax breaks — were quickly abandoned.

It appears lawmakers will vote instead on a tax bill that was hastily drafted behind closed doors by the majority leadership and then tossed out for legislators to adopt without a lot of time to study or analyze it. In other words, business as usual.

I hear from some of Frazier's colleagues that he is not very happy with the way the Tax Reform Council's recommendations were summarily tossed into the trash. He tried to give the political leaders an honest business assessment of what the state needed to do, but honesty is a quality not much in demand these days.

Diogenes would sympathize with that.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.

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