“All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted. Not so boldly charted it’s really just a question of your honesty.” – RUSH, The Spirit of Radio
Where law exists, our conduct and liberty are subject to countless forms of restriction.
The gradual deconstruction of liberty - within a free society from oppressive restrictions imposed by representative government - begins anew next week with part two of the 2019-2020 Georgia legislative session.
The United States is a constitutional republic. A form of government in which a representative is elected - by the people - to govern, according to the law established by a constitution.
The US Constitution contains 4,543 words. It has only been amended seventeen times since 1791. The brilliance found in its minimalism; it defines the organization and structure of the entire federal government, while establishing control over the scope and limitation of its power.
The US Constitution is the highest law of the land. All other laws are measured against it.
Constitutions are meant to be long lasting. They preserve stability within their framework in areas where debatable matters of law are concerned. The fundamentals of a constitution are uncomplicated. Things can get contentious when we turn to the abstract, such as defining “cruel and unusual punishment,” but the main principle of a constitution remains; legally limiting the powers of government, because government legitimacy depends on adherence to these restrictions.
We must also recognize constitutions can adapt to changing circumstances, without the loss of legitimacy, by 1) Remembering all persons are equal before the law. 2) A government cannot violate one’s guaranteed rights based on legislated morality. 3) Constitutional authors may not agree on how to define those rights. 4) Constitutional authors possess no crystal ball and cannot anticipate the future, or the variety of scenarios where these rights will be relevant. 5) Even if constitutional authors agree on what those rights might entail - at the time of authorship - they may not be comfortable doing so with respect to future generations.
Along with adherence to the US Constitution, each state has its own constitution and body of constitutional law. State constitutions are like the US Constitution. They contain a Bill of Rights, define the organization of government, outline its limitations of power, and establish its structure into three separate (but equal) branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.
State constitutions do diverge from the US Constitution. State constitutions are much more detailed. They average 8,500 words and focus more on limiting rather than granting power. The details in state constitutions address specific issues unique to the state. State constitutions are subject to frequent change (amendments). Amendments can be proposed by legislation, a citizens’ petition, or referendum. For example: The constitution of Georgia has been replaced in its entirety a total of nine times. The current version was ratified in 1983.
In the law making (legislative) branch, a bill must be passed by both houses of the Georgia Assembly in order to go before the governor for consideration. The governor can sign the bill, veto the bill, or do nothing. If the governor elects to take no action – which is within his purview - the bill automatically becomes law. A bill designated as “passed” has either been signed by the governor or sent to the governor with no action taken.
An interesting fact about the Georgia Assembly, they designate a Crossover Day - both sessions have such a day - the final day for a bill to be passed in a chamber, so it can move into the debate phase in the opposing house. A bill that failed to pass in a respective house by Crossover Day is designated as “dead.” That means it no longer can be by passed by the full assembly - for consideration by the governor - during part one of the legislative session. A dead bill can be revived (reconsidered) when the legislature reconvenes for part two of a session.
Once the legislature reconvenes, the dead label will be removed from all bills. Bills that crossed- over have until midnight on the last day of the session to pass both chambers (house and senate). Those bills that pass are sent to the governor.
One such dead bill set for revival is HB 428. If passed, would create a 4% tax on most online products, including e-books, iTunes music, and video games while eliminating various fees and taxes on existing phone and cable TV services (up to 5%).
The bill’s sponsor, House Industry and Labor Chairman Bill Werkheiser, a Republican from Glennville, took flak from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle because it initially included a proposal to impose sales tax on streaming services, which became known inside the gold dome as the “Netflix tax.” That unpopular caveat has since been removed.
Werkheiser claims his bill - which initially included the “Netflix tax” - was proposed to help fund or subsidize broadband internet lines to the 16% of Georgia households that lack access to reliable internet speeds of 25 megabits per second or higher. Minus the “Netflix tax,” Werkheiser says his bill is not a tax increase and won’t generate any additional money.
Legislators representing rural Georgia said internet expansion is essential for economic growth, education, and improving healthcare (telemedicine).
This bill was viewed as highly unfavorable amongst voters, with about 65% of Georgians opposing the idea of taxing internet, TV and phone services to raise money for rural internet.
Werkheiser estimated if streaming services were taxed, as initially outlined in his bill, it would have generated $48 million dollars of revenue in 2021, expanding to $310 million by 2024. The current version of his bill is branded “revenue-neutral.” Werkheiser believes his bill is still important because it will tax new technologies more fairly, especially as it relates to e-books and digital music.
Politicians love to use the word fair. It’s the new “F-word.” It implies impartiality and being free from self-interest. When a politician uses the word fair as justification for deciding, one can be assured they are getting “the old F-word.”
Let’s compare HB 428 to Orwell’s novel 1984. Notwithstanding Werkheiser and his fellow Republican’s effort, it is available in e-book form. Keep in mind 1984 – published in 1949 - is a work of fiction and not theory penned by a political scientist. It’s the primary reason Orwell’s novel has stood the test of time. Authors with comparable sensibilities, such as Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad, “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere,” likewise, experience lasting praise.
Werkheiser and fellow Republicans wish to be fair and tax electronic media to subsidize the cost of government-funded (taxpayer-funded) internet services to rural Georgia. The fundamental premise of 1984 was intended as a warning to the deceptive tendencies found in legislative “ideas,” the corruption of the individual by the fascination of totalitarianism, ways society could be controlled through a police or surveillance state, and limitations placed on free speech through the abuse of language for political purposes (newspeak). Q: How does the government convince the people that 2 + 2 = 5? A: Through their monopoly on violence, control of the media, and restrictions placed on freedom of speech. “You are the dead” Orwell writes in 1984. The You in this case symbolizes the people and the voice speaking the haunting words, their representative government.
With the plausible failure of this bill, monies for rural internet expansion will have to come from the state’s general treasury or from federal grants.
Yet, Republicans still support the bill, hoping to find a way to have taxpayers fund rural internet lines. They see the benefit in modernizing this tax structure – gaining more votes for reelection - but fail to see the adverse impact of such a tax on the end user of those products.
Both Governor Brian Kemp and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan expressed concern about taxing digital services (a tax increase). Their opposition was the catalyst for removing the “Netflix tax” from the bill.
It is noteworthy that the state of Georgia gave $870 million dollars in tax credits to the film industry - to include Netflix - last fiscal year. This credit - which currently has no cap - is the largest tax credit in the state and exceeds credits given by the entire country of neighbors to the north. Another way to view the enormity of this credit; it equates to 3% of the entire state budget of Georgia. Despite Georgia’s generosity, it maintains a budget surplus of $3 billion dollars.
Last year, the film industry created $6 billion in total economic impact in Georgia. Yet, Werkheiser and fellow Republicans think it’s a good idea to tax the consumer of a streaming service like Netflix, while approving almost $900 million in tax credits for the film industry. Their philosophy: the state government (through taxation), in the interest of fairness, needs to supply internet services to those who suffer from lower speeds.
So, having access to broadband internet in rural Georgia is now a right?
That’s Orwellian, and no longer a ridiculous thought. It’s potentially a law.
The question we the people need to ask ourselves. Do we still have the power to resist?
“Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth. But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.” – RUSH, Subdivisions, lyrics by Neil Peart, 09/12/1952 – 01/07/2020