Cobb senator, BoE chair rip tax break bill
by Jon Gillooly
March 11, 2014 04:00 AM | 4811 views | 13 13 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kathy Angelucci
Kathy Angelucci
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ATLANTA — State Sen. Lindsey Tippins and Cobb Schools Chairwoman Kathy Angelucci are denouncing a bill they say would limit a school district’s ability to challenge special tax breaks offered by development authorities to developers of office and hotel space. Current law does not allow development authorities to abate county and school taxes on projects such as hotels and motels, nursing homes and office buildings. However, Senate Bill 353 removes that barrier and allows tax abatements on any type of project in the name of economic development, Tippins said.

The bill would broaden the power of development authorities to dole out tax incentives on specific types of projects.

“My greatest objection is that this bill has the potential to further defund education in Georgia by extending the exemptions from paying school taxes to selected parties,” said Tippins, a west Cobb Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Georgia law allows for the creation of development authorities throughout the state for the purpose of developing and promoting the public good and general welfare, trade, commerce, industry and employment opportunities. Board members are not elected but appointed by county commissioners.

Some critics believe developer John Williams is behind the bill after striking out in court with the Cobb Board of Education over a development he wanted to build in Cumberland.

The Development Authority of Cobb County, chaired by Vinings Bank Vice President Clark Hungerford, approved a financing deal that would have allowed Williams to escape paying millions in school taxes on the development. The school district challenged the proposal in court, and Williams and his consultant Tad Leithead withdrew the application.

Already passed the Senate

The bill has already sailed through the Senate and is now in the House waiting for approval.

SB 353 is sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), who is CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the North Fulton Community Improvement District, a board on which Leithead serves. In the House, it is sponsored by state Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Buckhead). Lindsey is running in the May 20 Republican primary for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta).

Of the six senators who represent Cobb, Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) and Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) voted for the bill, Tippins and Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta) voted against the bill, and Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) and Bruce Thompson (R-White) did not vote and were marked “excused.”

Tippins explained his opposition by noting the types of properties considered under the new development authority law — hotels and motels, nursing homes, and office buildings — that could qualify for tax abatement.

“While they can be done under the bonding authority of a development authority they are not exempt from local ad valorem taxation according to the language of these bills, currently,” Tippins said.

Tippins said the bill would essentially allow local governments to pick winners and losers in the market place.

“I believe the reason that the law as it stands currently did not give them the exemption because all of these are properties that are operated by for-profit entities, and since they operate for profit, they’re in competition with other business entities that do not get these incentives. That’s why I oppose the bill,” Tippins said. “You’ve got to look at the fairness of the competition.”

Destabilizing school revenues

That’s not the only reason Tippins opposes the bill.

“I also oppose it because every time you extend an additional exemption, which that is what this bill does, you’re taking away any possibility of taxation by the education agencies as long as the title of the property is vested in the development authority,” Tippins said. “We’re already in a funding crisis in education and this further exacerbates the funding crisis that we have by exempting additional properties by statute.” Angelucci said she doesn’t know for certain that Williams is behind the legislation. “I would have to say it would make sense being what we just went through as a school district with regards to the Development Authority and the John Williams project, so that would make sense,” she said. “I don’t know it to be sure, but it’s worrisome and because the legislative session is so tight, things are going so fast that I just don’t think it’s been fully vetted.”

Another part of the bill that concerns Tippins is that under existing law, the district attorney is charged with attending the bond validation hearings to make sure that certain guidelines have been met. Beach’s law takes away that responsibility from the district attorney.

“In the absence of the DA being there, you know who makes the case that the conditions have been met? The Development Authority,” Tippins said.

Then there is the change that prohibits a party from appealing the ruling of a Superior Court judge. The bill says the judge is the final adjudication, he said.

Follow the money

Asked where this bill is coming from, Tippins said, “Well, follow the money.”

Had Beach’s bill been in place when the school board challenged John Williams’ project, the school board would have been on much less secure footing in its challenge, Tippins said.

“They could not challenge the office piece because they were challenging it on the grounds that it was specifically prohibited by law currently,” Tippins said. “If you take that current prohibition out of the law that you can’t do offices then they wouldn’t have a specific line-item challenge to it.” Angelucci agrees.

“I think we would not have had as strong a leg to stand on,” she said. “I don’t think that maybe the other side would have withdrawn because the objection was about school districts and their authority being usurped. But if the language of the bill puts certain allowances in like the office projects, if it allows for that then we could not have objected which is what John Williams wanted was the offices plus the apartments, so we would have had, we would not have been able to challenge it and be as secure as we were.” Cobb Development Authority Chairman Clark Hungerford believes Beach’s bill is good legislation that is needed to clarify various issues. “It’s really, as I understand it, kind of a clean-up bill; it’s primarily focused on some things happening in Fulton County, but I think has some benefits state wide and being a little bit more clear at what some of the qualified projects could be going forward,” he said. “I think it’s an OK bill. I think it’s one that should pass.” Hungerford said he was unaware of how Angelucci or Tippins felt about the bill.

“You know, I am for whatever can make our community better,” Hungerford said. “That includes the business, the school system and the community as a whole. I think there is some benefit from looking at ad valorem tax incentives and other incentives to induce growth in this county, not on a carte blanche basis, but I think there are projects that qualify that would be a boon to our community and end up helping the school board in the long run.”

Fearing the removal of accountability



Angelucci said she hopes Cobb’s state legislators vote against the bill. During a recent training session for school board leaders, Angelucci said she found many school board chairs were unaware of how development authorities can waive school district taxes for developers. “You can tell that a lot of school districts had no clue, I mean when I tell you no clue they didn’t even know what a development authority was, and when you consider how many are in the state of Georgia, I don’t know what the number is, but there are eight in Cobb County alone,” Angelucci said. “So because they didn’t know about it, what happens is especially with the rural districts, they’re not aware they can object. Angela Palm and Sis Henry (education lobbyists), they were standing in front of all those school board chairs and superintendents saying we really have to watch this.” Angelucci believes Beach’s legislation is being pushed through before school districts across the state wake up and realize how development authorities can give away future school revenues. “We’re going to have to talk about this on Wednesday,” Angelucci said of the board’s scheduled work session.

State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb) said he’s aware of the bill, but hasn’t yet read it.

“I have read the feedback from Tippins and Angelucci on it, and it does concern me,” Dollar said. “I placed a call to Sen. Beach to try to find out what he hopes to accomplish with this bill, and I haven’t heard back from him. I am troubled by the sentiment out there that this bill will take away accountability from the process when many feel that we need some more accountability.”

State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) said he’s studying the bill and is not ready to make a comment. Golick said the bill passed out of the House’s Economic Development Committee, but that Ed Lindsey had requested on Monday that it return to that committee, “so it could very well change.”

Click here to read the bill 

Comments
(13)
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Michelle Sollicito
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March 11, 2014
It is, of course, totally preposterous and ludicrous that such a Bill is even being considered. I hope people remember that our current Commissioners were behind all this when they vote in the Primaries and then in the upcoming Elections. The current Commissioners (excepting Lisa Cupid) are clearly obsessed with giving away Cobb County tax payers money to Private enterprise for some reason - the Braves, John Williams and if this Bill goes through, who knows who else?

We have to rid ourselves of as many of the Commissioners with that mentality as we can before it is too late for our schools. And WE MUST protest against this Bill also.

The Cobb County School District can not afford to lose even more - we are already "broke"!!

Contact Matt Dollar and make it clear to him that he must actually ACT - not just make a phone call and wait for someone to call him back!!!

http://www.mattdollar.us/contactMatt.html

CALL MATT DOLLAR!!

404.656.0254

matt.dollar@house.ga.gov

While you are at it, call Sharon Cooper also

770.956.8357

http://www.house.ga.gov/Representatives/en-US/member.aspx?Member=86&Session=23

Tell them Cobb County Schools are broke and we cannot lose more money because Cobb County Commissioners want to give tax payer money to their cronies.

Mom comment
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March 11, 2014
Then the real amazing thing is they can give all their developer friends. Like John Williams and his brother Wilmont, who have their $5 million dollar houses in Reynolds Platation. This in addition to the Multi million dollar homes member of the Williams family have In Buckhead.

Ironic that these same legislature and deal can't afford to expand Medicaid to bring insurance to 600,000 working class mostly adults. Many of these same people work on these developers construction projects! plant the tulips in front of apartment complexes ( none of these developers use illegal workers remember) for three years the federal government would pay 100% producing thousands of high paying jobs? allowing many people to have treatment for chronic diseases, which would allow them to work. A diabetic with treatment is able to stay in the work force. An untreated diabetic becomes an amputee, blind or on kidney dialysis. Then they end up on SSi and Medicaid with much higher costs and no reimbursement from the federal Government.

Even after 3 years and at 90% reimbursement on Medicaid expansion ( which states are being allowed to submit proposals to only go to 100% of ppl now not 133%. Since those at 100-133 % can get subsided private plans on the exchange for $6-23 month. With $10 generic drug and $25 doctor visit co pays and l$750 or less out of pocket max. Silver plans. All of these would save our hospitals, maybe reopen the 4 already closed this year.

No, this States republicans have to steal from the 90% of our children who go to public school! then they have to deny our working poor adults of medical care? John Williams project didn't. Even add the minimum of 25 or 30 jobs to meet the requirement. How many more mansions does John Williams and his family members need, I guess Reynolds Plantation and Buckhead isn't enough. He will just strong arm more subs to build him another house with free labor.

Worm is turning
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March 11, 2014
For the last century a fully functioning public school system has been a great equalizer in our society. However, that tide is beginning to turn

as we have government and quasi government agencies lining the pockets of the rich at the expense of the middle class tax payer. They will send their kids and grandkids to private schools while the public school kids are sucked into a funding vortex that ultimately means less opportunity, thus less equality for the vast majority of Americans. Indeed, it is sad to witness the demise of one of our greatest democratic institutions.
D.G. in Clarkdale
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March 11, 2014
Giving power to "unelected" boards to dole out "tax breaks", who invariably are cronies of developers, is the height of corruption. This is similar to the same kind of shenanigans we see being fostered on the "American Taxpayer" by Obamacare(sic). Its obvious that 97% of politicians aren't trustworthy! We need a new American Revolution to cleanse the corruption of the two dominate political parties and return us to untainted Constitutional law.
Conservative Voter
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March 11, 2014
Ed Lindsey just lost my vote in the primary and beyond. The schools must be supported and exemptions to taxation should only be granted in very limited circumstances and with the agreement of all parties affected.
Rjsnh
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March 11, 2014
Sen. Hunter Hill intends to leave no stone unturned this session in trying to identify new ways to do harm to our public education system.
Mom comment
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March 11, 2014
So sad that they gerrymandered the district, in Hills favor. We had a perfectly good representive in Sen. Doug Stoner who worker for the people. Yet they move the lines and fools voted for Hill just because he had a R after his name.

I voted for Stoner, he was the best candidate not corrupt Hill.
Politically corrupt
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March 11, 2014
Georgia ranks as the most politically corrupt state in the US, and this is a perfect example. Williams did not get his way, so he gets a politicians to create a bill in his favor. Vote these people out of office! I was a republican until a few years ago, and now I am independent. I think both Dems and Republicans are so corrupt and do anything to line their own pockets. Sad for the schools!
Thomas More
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March 11, 2014
Anytime a major development moves into and area, which will provide jobs and tax incentives(such as Disney World in Orlando) they are given tax breaks to make that initiative. Why should Cobb County Schools think such a consideration should be waived, where they are concerned?
East Cobb Senior
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March 11, 2014
Approximately 67% of the total property tax assessment goes to support our schools and this bill would give an "unelected" authority appointed by the COUNTY COMMISSION to waive the majority of school taxes for the purpose of development. At a minimum the authority should have equal representation from both the County and the School Board or as an alternative both the County Commission and School Board must sign off on any tax exemption being offered through the Development Authority.

This Bill has both John Williams and the Chambers of Commerce hands all over it. Any Cobb Representative that votes in favor of this Bill is definitely in the pocket of the Chamber and should be run out of office on a rail.
COBB CSI
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March 11, 2014
It’s funny all these years the thief’s at the county commissioners office have been illegally voiding school taxes for their rich chamber cronies. Now a back door deal to void the school boards authority all together. The rich Republicans have a war on school children theirs goes to private schools so there going to rape your children’s school funds. Anybody that pushes that bill needs to be taken out of office hope John Williams is happy in Fulton County he will need and black firm to get any permits along with a lot of payola to get anything going down there. The mask is being pulled off the CID’s and Development Authority the Cobb chamber is the one’s that green lights all this!!
Scott Chadwick
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March 11, 2014
Say WHUT??
rtman
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March 11, 2014
Why not give the teachers a tax break? We have worked for years without a raise. Go ahead, continue to give tax breaks to the mogul developers who funnel billions to greedy corrupt politicians, and see what happens to the schools. Nobody will want to live here anymore. There are thousands and thousand of teachers in this county, they need to vote to get these morons out of office...Teachers are a HUGE voting pool. Watch, the tides will change!

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