First airlines, now railroads want tax break from Georgia lawmakers

Railroads are looking for a tax break from the General Assembly.
Railroads are looking for a tax break from the General Assembly.

Georgia lawmakers just re-upped a fuel tax break for air carriers such as Delta Air Lines in November. Now railroads are looking for some tax “reform” of their own.

A subcommittee Wednesday held a hearing on legislation that would exempt fuel used by railroads from the state’s 4 percent sales tax.

It’s similar to the deal legislators have given airlines on jet fuel off and on for more than a decade.

A state accounting of House Bill 189, sponsored by state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, a former state transportation commissioner, said it will save railroads and cost the state about $9 million a year.

Smith said the railroads came to him asking for help getting the bill passed. He said they will reinvest the savings in rail improvement projects, although the bill wouldn’t guarantee that.

Just last year lawmakers passed an income tax break for railroads when they spend money maintaining tracks.

Lobbyists for railroad giant CSX don’t scrimp on spending at the Capitol. For instance, its chief lobbyist once flew then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Georgia-Florida game and typically spends big on lawmakers.

The company and its top lobbyist also contributed more than $35,000 in the last election cycle to state candidates, including $3,500 to Gov. Brian Kemp, who would have to sign any bill lawmakers pass.

The state’s short-line railroads would also benefit. They, too, have been active on the political front.

Members of the Tarbutton family, which owns the freight short-line Sandersville Railroad, are among the biggest political donors in the state. Charles Tarbutton served as chairman of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s failed gubernatorial bid last year. The family contributed about $200,000 to candidates in the last election cycle, much of it to Cagle and later Kemp after he beat the lieutenant governor last summer in the Republican runoff.

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