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Georgia Senate backs truth-in-tax-breaks legislation

Mar. 24,  2016 -  Atlanta -  Senator John Albers, who carried HB 216 in the Senate, argues for passage  of Amendment 1, which extends workman's comp benefits for firefighters.  After extended debate HB 216 passed in the Senate.   As this years general assembly comes to a close on the 40th day of the legislative session, legislators must consider scores of bills before the midnight deadline.    BOB ANDRES  / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Mar. 24, 2016 - Atlanta - Senator John Albers, who carried HB 216 in the Senate, argues for passage of Amendment 1, which extends workman's comp benefits for firefighters. After extended debate HB 216 passed in the Senate. As this years general assembly comes to a close on the 40th day of the legislative session, legislators must consider scores of bills before the midnight deadline. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The Georgia Senate is taking another run at forcing the state to study whether at least some of the tax breaks lawmakers dole out each year do what they promise.

The Senate voted 54-0 for Senate Bill 302 by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who pushed a similar measure last year, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

This time around, Albers said, the Kemp administration worked with lawmakers on the bill.

Albers’ measure would allow the chairmen of the House and Senate tax committees to request independent economic impact reviews of a handful of tax breaks each year.

The sponsor of the bill said it only makes sense that the General Assembly know whether such tax breaks -- which have flooded the Legislature in the past -- do what their sponsors promise they will do: generally create lots of jobs.

“I think this is great fiscal policy for us,” Albers said.

Currently, such tax breaks -- which cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year -- often occur after supporters provide testimony or data from industry lobbyists or other parties that would benefit. Those advocates typically tell lawmakers the tax break will create or save jobs, and legislators give the OK.

Some tax breaks pass without lawmakers being told how much they will cost the state, or save the business or industry, although there are fewer of those now than in the past.

Businesses hire lobbyists specifically to get such tax breaks passed because they can mean millions of dollars to a company.

Many times tax breaks pass in the final hours of a legislative session, when lawmakers are taking hundreds of votes and have little time to review what they are voting on.

Both Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome and House Ways & Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, who run the tax committees, have made it clear they plan to closely scrutinize tax break legislation before their panels.

Such bills typically start in the House, and Harrell’s committee let far fewer out last year than the General Assembly has approved in the past.