To that end, state lawmakers are set to vote to establish a commission to review Georgia's tax code. We encourage a "yes" vote.
Even if times weren't tough, this review is a good idea.
Effective leaders examine their operations periodically to ensure past decisions make sense today. In a similar manner, Georgia should scrutinize the way it levies taxes and grants tax exemptions.
Alan Essig, director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute think tank, has rightly called for a tax break budget, which would document the costs and benefits of individual tax breaks.
The reason is simple. If an exemption's broader economic benefit to the state is less than the foregone revenues to state government, lawmakers should end the exemption. If the state gains more than it loses, keep it.
Proposed commission members include Gov. Sonny Perdue, leaders of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and four economists, among others, which is a good cross-section.
Legislators promise the commission will have a free hand. That's necessary, because there should be no sacred cows if the panel wants credibility. However, there is talk about reinstituting the state sales tax on groceries, which was eliminated in 1996.
A benefit of a grocery sales tax is it is relatively recession proof. People might reduce their purchases of gadgets or clothes, but they have to eat.
But that's a paring knife that cuts both ways: It might ensure the state a steadier source of income, but it would mean a bigger tax burden for struggling families.
The blue ribbon commission must weigh the importance of more reliable funding for education, law enforcement and health care, against the impact on low-income families who spend a greater percentage of their budgets to put food on the table.
Other tax change possibilities include broadening the sales tax to include services - something that former House Speaker Glenn Richardson proposed two years ago.
State Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pointed out that even when the Peach State's economy was growing, sales tax collections remained flat. That's because the economic growth centered more on services than on the sale of goods. Georgia's tax code should reflect today's economy.
House Speaker David Ralston said the commission's recommendations would be treated like Congress treats those of the federal commission that suggests military base closures: They'd get an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate. No amendments would be allowed.
But before the General Assembly increases the tax burden on Georgians, it should first make sure its own house is in order.
The state should ensure it is collecting all of the tax dollars which it is currently due. Don't leave money on the table before asking for more.
The legislature should also return to zero-based budgeting. At present, legislators simply get a list of increases or decreases over previous spending.
The House has passed HB 44 from Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger) reinstating zero-based budgeting. The Senate should approve companion legislation from Sen. David Shafer.
The tax commission would submit a report by next January, in time for the next legislative session and a new governor.
Commission members should strive for a coherent, cohesive tax plan by that time. Don't do what Mr. Richardson did.
He took the Lone Ranger approach and his proposal went down in flames, in part because he failed to nail down his ideas before presenting them to the public.