Key local bills appear dead for this legislative session

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 14, 2014 

With only two days left in the current Georgia General Assembly session, two key pieces of legislation that the Consolidated Government included on its legislative agenda appear dead in the water, delegation members say.

One bill would have given military retirees an exemption on their income tax, as is provided in Alabama. This puts border cities such as Columbus at a disadvantage in attracting military retirees, supporters of the bill maintain.

The other bill would require the state Revenue Department to provide cities with more sales tax data, such as point of sale information, that would allow cities to better track how much sales tax is being collected in their jurisdictions.

With two days left, and both bills still in the House on second reading, they appear dead for this session, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said.

“If something hasn’t passed in the House at this point, unless you can attach it to another bill, it is dead for this session,” McKoon said.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, dean of the local delegation, said in a better economy the military retirement might have gotten more traction, but the Ways and Means Committee wasn’t very accepting of legislation that reduced revenues. But the delegation will continue to push the bill next year, he said.

“Columbus is at a disadvantage because issues like this make it an incentive to move to Alabama,” Smyre said. “It’s something that we’ll continue to fight for. And it’s something I hope we can get done, because it hurts Columbus and it’s something we should do for our military retirees anyway.”

McKoon said instead exempting military retirement pay, state lawmakers should consider lowering income taxes on all citizens.

“I believe we need to have a very serious discussion about bringing down our overall income tax. We’re seeing around the region that’s the trend. Florida has no income tax. Tennessee has no income tax and North Carolina has just dropped their top rate to below our rate.”

McKoon special exemptions to large entities should be eliminated, which would raise enough revenue to allow for a substantial state income tax reduction. Delta Airlines, for example, enjoys a sales tax break on jet fuel that saves the company about $100 million a year.

“And there are literally hundreds of those tax exemptions in the code,” he said.

As for the sales tax data bill, lawmakers said strong opposition from the state Revenue Department and from some businesses doomed it.

“A lot of cities are really interested in it, but a lot of businesses pushed back, saying they couldn’t give out that information because it’s proprietary,” Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, said. “Then the cities came back and said they wanted it in aggregate form. I really do not know why the Revenue Department cannot or will not provide that information.”

Smyre agreed that Revenue Department opposition was the key to that bill’s demise.

“The Revenue Department really weighed in this year and they were not receptive to the bill, so that really hurt us,” Smyre said.

There was some good news for Columbus in the session, McKoon said. Last year, the General Assembly included $5 million in its budget for the renovation of Howard Hall, one of the original buildings on the Columbus State University campus. This year, they included another $5 million for the renovation of Arnold Hall, another of the original buildings, McKoon said.

The General Assembly will meet next Tuesday, then close out the session on Thursday.

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