Mar. 9, 2017 - Atlanta - Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who is a volunteer firefighter, gives a fist pump to firefighters in the Senate gallery after the passage of House Bill 146, sponsored by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, and backed by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. The Georgia Senate unanimously backed a measure Thursday offering firefighters special insurance policies to cover treatment of certain work-related cancers, bringing it a crucial step closer toward final passage. The 30th legislative day of the 2017 Georgia General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Georgia Senate panel backs truth in tax breaks bill 

A key Senate committee 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 Finance Committee approved 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 flood the Legislature most years -- do what their sponsors promise they will do: generally create lots of jobs.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said, “We need to look at these like other states have. We can do better here at making sure we are making the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

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.

Sometimes lawmakers later review what happens after the tax breaks pass, sometimes not.

Both Hufstetler 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 this session.

That is particularly important this year because the General Assembly is facing passing budgets with 4% spending cuts this year and 6% in fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, in part because tax collections have been sluggish.

Previous tax cuts approved by lawmakers are one of the reasons given for the slow collections.

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