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Georgia senators reviewing corporate, personal tax breaks
Lawmakers to investigate effectiveness

ATLANTA — A Georgia Senate committee is beginning what could be a years-long study of the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks given to industries and individuals each year.

Lawmakers aim to find out what the tax breaks are designed to do, among other issues, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Lawmakers are setting out to learn whether the tax breaks do what promoters — often lobbyists — say they will do: Create or retain jobs, boost the economy or help in other areas, such as schools and charities.

There's no way they will be able to finish going through the dozens of income tax credits and sales tax breaks by the end of the year, Roswell Republican state Sen. John Albers, who heads the special panel, told colleagues recently.

When the latest round of tax breaks moved through the Capitol during the 2017 legislative session, some senators voiced frustration that doling them out made it harder financially to meet their main goal: cutting Georgia's top income tax rate of 6 percent.

"I am more interested in lowering everyone's income taxes and not having credits be so prevalent in Georgia," state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, a member of the committee, said Tuesday.

Hill is running for governor in 2018 and has promised to lead the fight to eliminate the state's income tax, the government's biggest source of revenue.

The dozen tax breaks lawmakers approved late in the 2017 session would cost the state treasury, and save select beneficiaries, about $483 million over the next five years, The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimated earlier this year.

Special-interest tax breaks typically gain approval on the final day of each session, a chaotic period when lawmakers take more than 100 votes within about 14 hours.

This year, lawmakers in those final hours backed several tax breaks such as one for the owners of giant yachts who have their vessels retrofitted or repaired in Savannah. At the same time, the legislature failed to pass a broad-based tax cut that lawmakers had proposed.

Georgia has long done a hit-or-miss job of looking back to see whether the various tax incentives for businesses do what lawmakers were told they would do, The Journal-Constitution reported.

A few big success stories — such as the tax break for filming in Georgia — get a lot of publicity. Legislators and the public get little information on many other ones.

In some cases, state agencies refuse to give out much information, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars in public tax money is at stake.

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