ATLANTA — Online sales taxes and federal block grants to cities were the two areas of difference between the Republican candidates for Senate when they debated before the state’s mayors Monday. The leading Democrat, Michelle Nunn, was a no-show.

Both issues are key concerns of local-government leaders, but they are bugaboos for conservatives like the primary voters all of the GOP candidates are appealing to. But in addressing the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual Mayor’s Day conference, the responses illustrated each candidate’s approach to thorny questions.

Paul Broun, one of three congressmen in the race, said he opposes tax increases and considers a federal law allowing states to tax online sales to out-of-state companies as a tax hike for consumers. He called for a tax cut instead. “I believe if 10 percent is good enough for the Lord, it should be good enough for Uncle Sam,” he said, referring to the Biblical instruction to give 10 percent of all earnings to the church.

On the other hand was David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, who drew applause when he said taxing digital sales would merely erase online markers’ advantage over hometown stores. “As the only retailer in this race, I can tell you that we need to level the playing field,” he said.

Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, the other congressmen in the contest, and former Secretary of State Karen Handel took the middle ground. Handel called for overall tax reform while Gingrey praised current law where states like Georgia only tax online companies’ in-state operations.

Kingston warned the mayors that they may have to give up favorable tax treatment of municipal-bond interest in exchange for expanding the online sales tax.

When asked about federal community development block grants that go to cities, Broun was for cutting them to reduce federal spending and the nation’s debt. Handel, who once was a county commissioner, said they’re important to local government and should be spared while cutting foreign aid instead. “We should be more concerned about economic development in our cities than in Morocco,” she said, calling the grants “sacred cows.”

Gingrey agreed. “You can be assured that as your next U.S. senator, I will work with you to make sure that this cow is as sacred as the others,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kingston said Congress should weigh cutting the grants along with consideration of every other federal program. “I think these grants will always be evolving but also somewhat on the chopping block,” he said.

Eugene Yu, a retired small-business owner, said both issues could be solved with common sense.

“I am the common-sense candidate,” he said.

The association also invited the three Democratic candidates to a separate debate, but presumed frontrunner Nunn and former legislator Steen Miles didn’t show up. Instead, Psychiatrist Branko Radulovacki had the stage to himself for five minutes.

“I’d happily debate all seven (GOP candidates) now,” he said. “I don’t need any other Democrat.”

Follow Walter Jones on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at and (404) 589-8424.


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