With Crossover Day behind it, Ga. Capitol enters final leg of legislative season

Governor Nathan Deal signed on Thursday a headline-grabbing proposal that would slash state income taxes while deep-sixing a lucrative tax exemption for homegrown Delta Air Lines.

The governor’s signature capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol, which dove headlong into a cultural debate on the Second Amendment after Delta discontinued a special discount program for NRA members in the days that followed a Florida school shooting.

The tax cut bill, which would reduce the state’s top income tax rate to 5.75 percent in fiscal year 2018 and then to 5.5 percent the year after, initially included the fuel exemption, but Senate leadership deleted the plank in a rebuke to Delta.

Deal has signaled he will still pursue a vehicle to secure the tax break for the airline, which ranks as the state’s single largest employer with some 33,000 workers across Georgia.

Elsewhere in the capitol …

With Thursday’s Crossover Day hangover behind it, the General Assembly enters now the final quarter of its 40-day legislative season staring down the imperative to address transit reform before the clock ticks to zero at the month’s end.

Both chambers advanced similar proposals that would mark the largest expansion of public transportation in Atlanta in more than four decades, allowing metro Atlanta’s 13 sprawling counties to raise hundreds of millions in sales taxes for new transit projects and creating a new regional transit governing agency to succeed MARTA. The House and Senate must now negotiate the differences in the two.

The House passed last week what’s been dubbed the “Netflix bill,” because it included a new tax on content streaming services, to encourage broadband deployment and access in rural communities. Despite the nickname, the tax on services like Netflix were dropped before passage.

Ga. House OK’s 2018 ‘Little Budget’

The Georgia House of Representatives approved last week a midyear spending bill to make use of additional revenues for fiscal year 2018, appropriating more than $300 million in new money.

The supplemental budget, known around the capitol as the “Little Budget,” will keep state agencies and offices running through June 30, when a new fiscal year will begin.

More than a third of the newly apportioned revenue will go to public schools and colleges. Other tens of millions will be directed to health care programs serving poor Georgians.

The so-called Little Budget now goes to the Senate for consideration, and its eminent passage brings the General Assembly one step closer to addressing and completing its singular constitutional obligation: passing a balanced spending plan, known as the Big Budget, for the next fiscal year.

Elsewhere in the capitol …

A House education subcommittee green lighted a proposal to address supplemental funding inequities for charter schools across the state, while another committee approved legislation providing for a new sales tax exemption to help pay for a potential expansion by the Georgia Aquarium.

Senator Brandon Beach has introduced his long-awaited transit reform bill, which would create new transit funding mechanisms through an optional local sales tax. The stipulates that MARTA would operate any service funded by the new tax. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Provide for a 1% Transit SPLOST and excluding that tax from the 2% cap;
  • Allow counties to fund transit projects within their jurisdiction, subject to approval of those projects by the Commission, and referenda would be carried out in accordance with other such SPLOSTs.  Approved projects would then be evaluated and prioritized by the local jurisdictions affected in conjunction with MARTA.  Local jurisdictions will also have the option to execute intergovernmental agreements with MARTA under which MARTA would assume control of future transit services.  For all intents and purposes, this bill would appear to impact 13 metro Atlanta counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale; and
  • Create the Atlanta-region Transit Link “ATL” Commission as a new division under the Georgia Regional Transportation Commission. The purpose of this Commission is to plan and coordinate the provision of transit services, the establishment of transit facilities, and the funding of those purposes throughout its jurisdiction. This jurisdiction consists of any county which has approved a MARTA tax or any county which has approved a Transit SPLOST.  Initially the Commission would consist of 11 members.

Spurred by recommendations from House Rural Development Council, legislation has been introduced in the House that would finance the cost of developing rural broadband with a new tax on digital content streaming services like Netflix.