Opinion: A clean break in Atlanta, and a low-SALT tax code

Too many topics, too little time to get to them all. So today I’m taking a page from my predecessor, Jim Wooten, and giving you a Thursday free-for-all:

  • An attorney for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed assures the public there was nothing illegal about Reed’s steering thousands of dollars raised last year for a transportation referendum to the campaigns of seven City Council members loyal to him. Thanks, I guess? After all, it’s not as if legality can be presumed these days at City Hall, which is embroiled in a federal bribery investigation that has already sent two contractors to prison and snagged a guilty plea from the city’s former chief procurement officer. But legality is a minimum standard, and signs of corruption are all the more reason for city officials to act beyond reproach when it comes to anything that could look like trading in favors. Voters next week need to deliver a clean break from the current regime. Unfortunately for her, that means not electing Keisha Lance Bottoms, whom Reed has endorsed.
  • Speaking of elections and clean breaks: Those donations remind us it’s important that Atlantans make the right choice for members of the City Council as well. That starts with choosing a council president who is doggedly, consistently independent. I’ll say it again: That person is longtime Councilwoman Felicia Moore.
  • Everything’s not up to date in Fulton County, and government coffers have “gone about as fer as they can go.” A delay in billing and collecting property taxes means city governments and school systems are running on fumes, a problem compounded last week when the state Revenue Department rejected the county’s tax digest. At issue is the freeze on property values Fulton commissioners ordered after soaring assessment notices this summer nearly triggered a revolt among homeowners; more than half saw increases of at least 20 percent, and nearly a quarter saw increases of at least 50 percent. A court hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine if the county may proceed with sending tax bills or if it must first recalculate the digest. The whole situation is an infernal mess indicative of just how broken the current property-tax system is. Legislators next year must approve a mechanism to protect homeowners from skyrocketing tax bills, such as the cap proposed by Gabriel Sterling, the best candidate for chairman of the county commission.
  • In Washington, House Republicans are due to unveil the details of their tax-reform bill. The sticking points appear to be two-fold: Whether to repeal part or all of the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), and whether to cap contributions to 401(k) retirement plans. Other details matter, such as where the income brackets for the new rates begin and end, but where Republicans end up on those two thorny issues will tell you if they’ve produced a serious reform. Subsidizing high-tax states and localities isn’t something the federal government should be in the business of doing; better to remove the SALT deduction and reduce tax rates accordingly. Encouraging Americans to save for their own retirement, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of incentive that belongs in the tax code. The GOP better start off by getting those two right, or we could be looking at an Obamacare repeal redux.

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