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Fireworks light up Georgia wallets

After hosting four nights of backyard fireworks my DeKalb neighborhood was named the most noisily patriotic in metro Atlanta.

Fireworks light up the downtown Atlanta skyline during Centennial Olympic Park's Fourth of July Celebration on Monday, July 4, 2016. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

At times, as windows rattled, I was unsure if my neighbors were celebrating America or defending it.

My neighborhood was also the smokiest. If there's any food more American than a grilled hot dog that tastes a bit like gunpowder I don't want to eat it.

Fireworks, like freedom, are not free. They're actually kind of expensive.

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Georgia retailers have sold an estimated $18 million of fireworks since they were legalized in 2015.

To paraphrase Joe Dirt , that's a lot of spleen splitters, husker do's, husker don'ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, scooter sticks and whistlin' kitty chasers.

We won't know how much Georgians spent on fireworks this Independence Day until next month, but in July of 2015, the first month fireworks were legalized, they spent an estimated $11 million.

Government isn't free either, which is why Georgia slaps a 5 percent "excise" tax on fireworks sales . The state also makes retailers charge a sales tax on the excise tax. Soon, I suspect, we'll have a tax on sales tax.

Thus, our great state liberated about $886,000 in fireworks taxes from July 2015 to May of 2016, the last month info was available from the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Where does the money go? You might think it goes to emergency rooms for equipment to treat burns or reattach fingers. Or maybe it is funneled to firefighters for equipment to better battle the inevitable July 4th rooftop blaze?

Nope. Despite being a very targeted tax the revenue goes to the state's general fund, meaning it can be used for anything politicians dream up.

Curiously, no legislator dreamed up spending cash on a public fireworks display on America's birthday. No state park had a fireworks show over the holiday weekend, said a Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokesperson.

Fortunately, local governments and private enterprise picked up the patriotic slack. How much does a fireworks show cost? A good estimate is $2,000-a-minute says Rick Lambright with East Coast Pyrotechnics, which put together more than 30 July 4th shows in Georgia this year.

Atlanta's Lenox Square is home to the biggest July 4th extravaganza in Georgia, said Lambright.

Lambright, who also planned shows for Sandy Springs, Marietta and Villa Rica, said large shows require hundred of hours to plan and execute. The 16-minute Lenox Square spectacle featured more than 10,000 fireworks weighing more than seven tons.

Fireworks, unlike freedom, are usually Chinese, according to industry info and the label of every bottle rocket I've ever ignited.

In 2014, China shipped more than 200 million pounds of fireworks to the U.S. The communist nation supplies about 87 percent of the world's fireworks. The U.S. is the 5th leading exporter of fireworks but only accounts for about 1 percent of the global market.

Georgia has offered financial incentives to attract Chinese companies, but, now that we don't have to drive to Alabama to buy fireworks, maybe our tax dollars could go towards creating local manufacturing jobs?

Tax breaks helped the film industry explode in Georgia. I find it interesting (and only tangentially related) that, according to 2014 data , the Chinese-owned company with the most employees in our fair state is not a factory but a chain of movie theaters -- AMC Entertainment.

Georgia loves fireworks so much we ought to make them ourselves. If any research and development is required my neighbors might work for free.















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