After several years of trying, House Economic Development & Tourism Chairman Ron Stephens finally won passage last year of a bill that would allow the developers of attractions to keep the sales taxes they collect for 10 years until they pay off the construction costs. One year when it did pass the House and Senate, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed it as too generous.
Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal signed it into law. At the time, a Midwest developer said it was planning to use it for the construction of a large shopping center on Interstate 95 in Kingsland, and an Atlanta developer wanted it for an indoor snow-skiing park. Observers speculated that it would help with the expansion of the Six Flags over Georgia amusement park and the construction of a stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
During a recession, such large projects bringing in jobs and customers from out of state sounded appealing to many legislators.
But since its been on the books, it hasn’t sparked the first job or snagged a single customer.
“So far as I can determine, no one has yet taken advantage of this legislation,” said Alison Tyrer, spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Development.
Thursday, Stephens, a Savannah Republican, has introduced House Bill 1050 to scale back who can qualify. Originally, a project only needed to be at least $1 million in size. The new bill would raise the threshold to $100 million. It also extends the pay back period from 10 years to 25.
Finally, it takes the desecration over which projects qualify from the governor and gives it instead to the commissioner of community affairs, who is appointed by the governor. Critics argued last year that giving one politician that much authority opened the door to payoffs and political favoritism.
The new bill is awaiting action by the House Ways and Means Committee.