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The first thing we do, let's tax all the lawyers

That's what one Georgia lawmaker is suggesting.

Glenn_richardson Glenn Richardson, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, plans during next year's legislative session to push a bill that would levy the state's sales tax on attorneys.

Actually, the measure would tax all professional-service providers, notes an article on Law.com, from barbers and landscapers to accountants and, yes, lawyers.

Since it's always more fun to consider an attorney in an uncomfortable, and in this case taxing situation, let's look at what the measure might cost a counselor in Atlanta, where the sales tax is 8 percent. If the lawyer puts in an eight-hour day at $250 per hour, the state would collect daily sales tax revenue of $160.

Of course, you don't expect that money to come out of the attorney's paycheck, do you? Nope, it will come from clients, who will end up paying more for the legal advice so as to cover their attorney's tax bill.

Robbing Peter, paying Paul: Richardson, a Republican from Hiram,  doesn't have anything personal against the state's personal services providers. He was one himself -- an attorney, in fact -- before entering politics.

But now that he's in the Georgia legislature, he sees the political advantage of using the potential new revenue from business people to eliminate the state's property tax system. And without property taxes, the money has to come from somewhere.

In addition to the new income from collecting sales taxes on attorneys et al, Richardson is said to be looking at wiping out virtually all sales tax exemptions, from one allowed on the sale of fuel used by pig farmers to another on building materials used to construct a museum at Fort Benning. Such exemptions, according to a Georgia State University estimate, cost the state about $10 billion a year.

And while people hate property taxes, I don't think Richardson's going to see a groundswell of public support for his sales tax increases.

In fact, he could help produce one of those proverbial strange-bedfellows situations that politics is (in)famous for.

First you've got the professionals who will facing the tax. Those white collar types are the prototypical campaign contributors and I doubt that most of Richardson's colleagues in the state capital want to see their re-election funds dwindle.

Then you have the folks who'll actually foot the sales tax bill every time they hire an attorney or architect or get a haircut or have have their yards mowed. Sure, it won't be as much as the property tax bill -- unless they are particularly litigious or both they and their lawns are particularly shaggy -- but it will be continual payments that are a bit higher than they are used to. The property tax bill, for most folks, is collected monthly as part of mortgage payment and adjusted just once a year to account for any changes.

Little_red_school_house_miller_crop And, of course, the local governments and school districts, will fight this proposal, since a large portion of their funding comes from property taxes. It's going to take a lot of divorce court cases to generate the money those jurisdictions could lose. Worse, say some school officials, without property taxes, the state will have complete control of local districts' funding. So much for neighborhood schools.

One other portion of the bill, however, might get some public traction. The original version of Richardson's legislation included a provision that would eliminate all county offices of tax commissioner, tax receiver and tax collector.

Yep, those folks are just about as "beloved" as lawyers.

The legal price elsewhere: According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, five states (as of 2004) already collect sales tax on legal services. They are Delaware, Hawaii, New Mexico, South Dakota and Washington.

Death by taxes? For another take on William Shakespeare's famous literary suggestion to kill, rather than tax, all the lawyers, as well as the prolific writer's other attorney observations, click here.

"Little Red Schoolhouse" image from a painting by Catherine Miller. Available at Yellow Barn Studio & Gallery, Glen Echo Park, MD.


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