As of Friday — the 27th day — House Bill 314 was being stripped of language that gave the governor sole discretion on which projects would receive the tax break.
The change is irrelevant since the new bill gives project approval authority to departments fully within his administration and control. Meanwhile, projects rumored to qualify remain in a legislative limbo.
The Georgia Tourism Development Act, sponsored by Republican Ron Stephens of Savannah, who chairs the House Economic Development Committee, gives tourist attractions a 2.5 percent rebate on the sales tax they collect for up to 10 years if they meet certain qualifications. Those qualifications include that 25 percent of visitors be out-of-state patrons and that such projects not compete with current similar projects.
Projects in numerous locations — from Jekyll Island to Lake Allatoona — are waiting in the balance. Once limited to projects costing more than $100 million, the governor (reportedly interested in encouraging smaller projects in economically deprived areas of south Georgia) required that the limit be lowered to $1 million per project.
Republican Paul Battles of Cartersville said of the Allatoona-based Lake Point Sportsman Group project (a public/private partnership featuring ball fields and other recreational amenities), “It will create thousands of jobs along (Interstate) 75. It is expected to create more than 26,000 jobs within our region.”
The project is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Battles is a co-signer on the bill and worked feverishly last week towards its passage.
Another project lies in Catoosa County. The Lake Winnepesaukah water park project, under construction and expected to open Memorial Day (May 27), hopes to get more than $113,000 tax break from the state. Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga has quarterbacked the project so far. Mullis, also chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has the political equity necessary to get any project the attention it needs at the capitol.
The bill is not without problems, Mullis said.
According to Battles, a pass-through agency needs to be created so that sales tax funds can be funneled through it. The agency has yet to be created.
Most economic incentives are presented as a tax credit to the legislature. This requires a “fiscal note,” an accounting supplied by the Office of Budget and Planning as to what the bill actually costs. Lawmakers must consider the fiscal impact on the state budget in light of other priorities as they consider the bill.
HB 314 lacks a fiscal note, and, in a tight budget year, may not appeal to legislators.