Deal signs bill for tourism tax breaks

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ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill that will repay one-fourth of the cost to develop tourist attractions.

The Georgia Tourism Development Act, House Bill 324, was among the 44 bills signed Wednesday. It also extends the exemption from sales tax on parts used to repair out-of-state airplanes at companies such as Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace. That exemption would have expired this year without the new legislation.

The tourism part of the bill repays developers from the sales taxes generated by amusement parks, museums and other attractions costing at least $1 million and drawing 25 percent of their customers from out of state. The governor has the final say on which projects qualify.

Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, sponsored the bill and notes that a similar law in Kansas gets credited with sparking thousands of jobs there.

When the House voted on HB 324, some of the most conservative legislators, like Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, joined in the most liberal ones in opposing the tourism provision as overly generous.

Spencer won election last year partly because of his opposition to the measure. He campaigned against its sponsor in the 2010 legislative session, Rep. Cecily Hill, R-Kingsland, defeating her in the primary.

Hill had pushed the bill on behalf of a Midwestern developer hoping to build a large shopping complex on Interstate 95 in Kingsland that would qualify by drawing shoppers traveling to and from Florida. That project hasn’t been built, but Spencer said he thinks landowners eager to sell to the developer lobbied Stephens’ bill this year because the proposal remains viable.

The provision has also created controversy in Savannah because it could be used in the development of a large hotel across the river from downtown on Hutchinson Island. The owners of existing hotels object to giving a break to a new competitor.

Stephens issued a statement earlier this week before Deal signed the bill speculating that the governor would be unlikely to approve the Hutchinson Island hotel.


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