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Zell, is it modesty or ....?

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POSTED: March 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Can this be true? A movement is afoot in the Capitol to change the title of House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s sweeping tax reform measure. Overnight, Romeo’s GREAT Tax Plan would become known as the DEAD Tax Plan.

I have not been able to confirm this, but it certainly makes sense. Speaker Glenn is fighting a fierce war on two fronts to save his plan no matter what it is called and to rescue his own political career from oblivion.

The Legislature’s most powerful black leader, Senate Democratic Leader Robert Brown, has blistered the plan as anathema to all poor folks.

And Grover Norquist, super-conservative leader of the D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform, is urging his supporters to fight the GREAT Tax Plan. Norquist is demanding a pledge that the GREAT plan "is in fact not a tax increase."

Sen. Brown later sounded a similar battle cry: "On behalf of my Democratic colleagues in the Senate, we’re pleased to stand in solidarity with our friends in the House Democratic Caucus. We Democrats outlawed taxing groceries nearly a decade ago, and we are not about to allow the Republicans to tax groceries now. The kitchen table should never be taxed."

Only one grand voice is missing from an all-out boo against the GREAT tax. Former Gov. Zell Miller, the self-proclaimed father of removing the sales tax on groceries, is yet to be heard from. He must be having trouble with his phone and e-mail. Attacking the re-imposition of the sales tax on food is a win-win move. The sales tax is the most regressive levy ever devised. Taxing food makes it even more regressive.

Miller has a long and honorable history of fighting the state duty on food. He railed against the levy in 1979 and 1980 in his unsuccessful election battle against U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge.

As lieutenant governor, Miller continued the fight right into his successful campaign for governor. In fact, a grocery tax exemption was one of his three most important pledges, the other two being boot camps for young offenders and the education lottery.

On Jan. 11, 1996, he signed into law the phased-in exemption - the largest tax cut in Georgia history. "This is a historic day!" Gov. Miller thundered. "If you eat, you win!" Killing the food tax is a defining issue of Miller’s political life.

In his book, "Zell: The Governor Who Gave Georgia Hope," biographer Richard Hyatt cites the tax exemption as one of Miller’s main achievements. It also is emphasized in "Signed, Sealed and Delivered, Highlights of the Miller Record," the taxpayer-funded biography of Zell.

At the end of a Miller speech to the Eastman/Dodge County Chamber of Commerce, a local wit, Lofton Giddens, compared Gov. Miller to the late Gov. Eugene Talmadge. "Gene gave us a $3 car tag, and Zell wants to give us tax-free collard greens," he said.

Then something happened. Zell was elected to the U.S. Senate. He didn’t change parties, but he changed friends. He put aside populist garbage related to tax reduction.

It wasn’t a fit subject for the new Zell’s new speeches - not when Zell charged $25,000 for oratory in Georgia. He billed $35,000 and $30,000 for making addresses outside our state - plus first-class airfare for two people, coach fare for one and hotel accommodations for three.

Zell’s high-powered speakers’ bureau ad promoting Zell as a top-tier performer makes no mention of his removing the sales tax on food. His new target audience - the people in white shoes and silk stockings - apparently has little interest in such penny-ante matters. Now if Miller had weighed in on canceling the capital gains tax, he might be onto something. Zell might be right up there with John McCain for president. He certainly is old enough.

Still, killing the grocery tax is part of Miller’s legacy. I want to ask him why he is trying to hide it. A friend told me that Miller now wears hearing aids, which he turns on only for special friends willing to discuss certain topics. Tax exemptions are not included on the discussion list, and your humble correspondent was left off the special friends list. Probably an oversight.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.

 

 

 

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