Expanding development tax breaks is a really bad bill
by Don McKee
March 12, 2014 04:00 AM | 1150 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There are bad bills and then there are really bad bills in the Georgia General Assembly. Senate Bill 353 is a really bad bill.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb) says so. Tippins is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, former longtime member of the Cobb school board, owner and founder of a successful business for 45 years and holder of a juris doctorate degree. If he says the bill is bad, it’s bad.

SB 353, according to a Senate press release, would “revise the definition of a ‘project’ as it relates to development authorities to allow hotel and motel facilities that are constructed in connection with convention, sports or trade shows tax exempt status.” Current law does not permit abatement of county and school taxes on developments such as hotels and motels, nursing homes and office buildings.

Tippins and Cobb school board chairwoman Kathy Angelucci have blasted SB 353 as bad legislation that would expand tax abatements and tie the hands of school districts in challenging tax breaks given by development authorities to office and hotel developers.

And that brings us to the knock-down-drag-out fight over a proposed school tax break for a Cumberland area project backed by developer John Williams. After it ran into a court challenge by the Cobb school district, the application was withdrawn by Williams and consultant Tad Leithead. Some critics believe Williams is behind SB 353, as MDJ ace reporter Jon Gillooly reported in Tuesday’s Journal. Tippins didn’t go that far but he said, “Well? Follow the money.”

SB 353 is sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), who happens to be executive director of the North Fulton Community Improvement District’s board on which Leithead also serves. Just coincidental, of course.

Tippins said his greatest objection to the bill is that it “has the potential to further defund education in Georgia by extending the exemptions from paying school taxes to selected parties.” He also said it’s a fairness issue. Current law does not provide the exemptions “because all of these are properties that are operated by for-profit entities,” and are “in competition with other business entities that do not get these incentives.”

One of the most alarming features of SB 353 it that it takes away the requirement that the district attorney or attorney general appear at the development authority bond validation hearing and any subsequent proceedings. Instead, the development authority “shall bear the burden of making the case for the validation of the bonds,” the bill says.

Even worse, SB 353 prohibits any appeal from a superior court validation of development authority bonds. The bill says: “the judgment of the superior court confirming and validating the issuance of the bonds and the security for such bonds shall be forever conclusive against the governmental body.”

SB 353 zipped through the Senate 35-13 last week, then went to the House and was favorably reported out of committee but sent back to the committee Monday.

It’s not dead but it should be. It’s a really bad bill.

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