University System’s push to privatize dorms moves forward

A House committee on Thursday approved a bill that could ultimately allow for a property tax exemption currently on state college property to be extended to private companies selected to operate dorms.

The University System of Georgia is seeking the tax break for companies as part of a plan to help reduce the system’s $3.8 billion in debt by privatizing student housing on its campuses.

Extending the exemption to the companies would require a statewide referendum. House Bill 788, sponsored by Rep. Lynne Riley, R-Johns Creek, would put the issue on the November ballot.

The University System plans to include housing at eight institutions in its initial offering. The system would retain ownership of the buildings and land, but the selected company would operate and maintain the facilities according to leases that could run as long as 65 years.

The bill overwhelmingly passed out of the Ways and Means Committee despite concerns by some lawmakers about the length of the contracts with selected companies and potential cost increases for students.