Clemons: Legislative delegation divides on taxes

The three men who shared the podium for the entirety of Thursday’s legislative breakfast agreed on most issues, but there was one pretty major bone of contention.

I first met state Sen. Rick Jeffares seven years ago when he first ran for office and have found him to be a pretty dyed-in-the-wool conservative. He didn’t address it Thursday until he gave a sheepish grin when asked about it by an audience member, but he’s a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Reps. Dale Rutledge and Andrew Welch, both from McDonough, are Republicans like Jeffares. But they gave eyebrow-raising answers when the subject of tax breaks arose Thursday morning.

Jeffares, R-McDonough, jumped in without hesitation when asked about the likelihood of continuing the state’s tax breaks for our film industry. Not only does he expect those tax breaks to remain, but he said the career education he champions is growing to include training on the film industry in his home of Henry County.

Rutledge though suggested tax breaks for the film industry — so important to the economy of Newton County — could be in danger of losing his support.

His analogy was that Sam Ramsey would benefit from a tax break on the sale of mattresses, but the state doesn’t allow it.

I see the concern about tax breaks, to a point. I suspect you’ll see talk of reigning these credits in during the 2018 legislative session. You’d expect some pushback after the General Assembly gave a break on the repair of luxury boats in the past session.

And all of the Republicans on the panel Thursday expressed some heartburn over the tax breaks given to bring the 2019 Super Bowl to Atlanta. (That’s despite Rutledge and Welch both voting it out of the House on Feb. 26, 2016, and Jeffares approving it in the final Senate vote about three weeks later.)

Rutledge’s district doesn’t see the film industry impact as much as some of his colleagues, so he’s probably not as attuned to the thoughts of people in Covington as, say, Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, who wasn’t in attendance Thursday. But let’s just say the idea of taking another look at the tax incentives for an industry that brings so much business to the city didn’t go over well.

I understand there would be quite an effort to lobby against any such changes, as there should be.

Look, we can say tax breaks for Hollywood shouldn’t be necessary, and producers should come to Georgia because we have the facilities and natural beauty and accessibility and all the other things you need, but it comes down to dollars and cents. It just does.

For that matter, one of the lawmakers expressed concern about the incentives offered to bring Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters to Atlanta. Sure, it would be great of Amazon picked Georgia because we’re a friendly place and have a busy airport, and it’s really cute how Stonecrest offered to change its name, but this is just how the ballgame is played.

President Donald Trump has proposed ending tax breaks for public construction of stadiums, which is a start. (It’s also a little late in the case of metro Atlanta and its two new stadiums.) But short of a federal law that ends these incentives, we’re going to have to pay to play.

Rutledge may be ideologically pure, but his idea seemed to go over quite poorly with local officials we spoke with Thursday. He needs to talk with the city and county leaders in his delegation before he sends a major industry back west.

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is dclemons@covnews.com. Twitter: @scoopclemons.