After an hour and a half debate the State Senate passed House Bill 951,by a margin of 38-14. Despite several attempts to amend the bill from the Senate floor, no changes were made, and the measure heads to Governor Deal for his signature. The bill provides for the annual back to school tax exemption weekend in early August, and a sales tax exemption for certain energy efficient items in October. That portion was non controversial. What caused the most debate was the section that eliminated sales taxes on tickets to major sporting events, including the Super Bowl.
The bill had six floor amendments, ranging from one that would remove the sales tax exemption on sporting events completely, to one that would require the event’s host city to make up the estimated $10 million in lost sales tax revenue from exempting tickets, to one that would change who decides when an event is major from the Economic Development and State Revenue Commissioners to the General Assembly. Another amendment would use a hotel-motel tax in the host city to recover the lost ticket sales tax revenue, while another would sunset the bill at the end of 2016 instead of 2022. A final amendment was withdrawn. None of the amendments passed.
After Senator Butch Miller presented the bill, several senators got up to speak against it, including Columbus Sen. Josh McKoon, who sponsored the first four amendments. Sen. McKoon highlighted several potential hidden costs of holding a major supporting event, and said that tax policy shouldn’t favor one type of sporting event over another. He pointed out that the legislature raised $900 million in taxes with the Transportation Funding Act, and wondered why the state was giving revenue away. Calling House Bill 951 “Economic Distortion,” Sen. Mike Crane of Newnan wondered why business interests wanted the tax exemption to pass yet refused to allow the passage of a religious liberty bill.
Also speaking against the bill was Senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta, who pointed out that none of the estimated $400-500 million a Super Bowl would bring would be going to the neighborhoods surrounding the new Mercedes Benz stadium. Fort stated that the legislature was being blackmailed voluntarily.
Supporters of the bill pointed out that the foregone revenue from exempting major sporting event tickets was not revenue that could be gotten in another manner. Specifically, the NFL has said the only way there would be a Super Bowl in Atlanta would be to offer the tax exemption. Without the event, there would be no tickets sold, nor tax to collect.
Voting against the bill were Senators John Albers, Gloria Butler, Bill Cowsert, Crane, Fort, Bill Heath, Steve Henson, Hunter Hill, Chuck Hufstetler, Harold Jones, McKoon, Nan Orrock, Horacena Tate and Renee Unterman. Senators Charlie Bethel, Ed Harbison, Judson Hill and Michael Williams were excused and did not vote.