News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A state law meant to attract new businesses to the area is causing a big headache for city leaders.
Lawmakers voted this year to remove taxes on energy production, but that's expected to create a major shortfall for local governments.
The mayor pro tem says the best way to tackle the shortfall may be to turn to the church.
"When you have a church that has got a value of two or three million dollars, why not tax it?" said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles. "Look at all the preachers that drive around in a Lexus and Mercedes. Surely there is plenty of money running through churches."
One local pastor says the suggestion does not come as a surprise.
"Because it is really more of a satanic move," said Rev. K.B. Martin, who points to the recent challenge to the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast as a sign of changing times. "It's part of the movement to destroy the church, and then you want to ask the question why is society in the shape that it is in?"
City leaders say the issue is centered around less funding from the state.
"It could be millions of dollars," said Cty Administrator Fred Russell, who noted the shortfall comes thanks to a state law removing taxes from manufacturer's energy production.
"A place like us that has a big industrial base," Russell said. "That's going to be a major hit. Those funds need to be replaced in some shape or form."
Russell says the viable options include reducing services or an excise tax on local businesses.
"Which defeats the purpose of reducing the sales tax," Russell said.
"Maybe instead of an excise tax, we work with the state officials to see if we can start taxing property taxes for churches and nonprofits," Bowles said.
That's the kind of logic Martin insists will be counterproductive.
"Our morals, our culture," Martin said, "are all being challenged by 'the establishment.'"
Commissioners held their first meeting on the topic this week. The city expects a steady reduction in revenue over the next four years.