Georgia lawmakers approve bill to review, add tax breaks

06/22/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Georgia Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) presents HB 789 in the Senate Chambers on day 36 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, June 22, 2020. HB 789 passed in the Senate Chambers. The bill was immediately transmitted to the House. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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06/22/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Georgia Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) presents HB 789 in the Senate Chambers on day 36 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, June 22, 2020. HB 789 passed in the Senate Chambers. The bill was immediately transmitted to the House. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

State lawmaker gave final approval late Wednesday to a measure to review special-interest tax breaks while at the same time adding to the lengthy list of such state tax breaks.

Senate Bill 6 by Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican, started out as a bill to let the House and Senate tax committee chairmen pick a handful of special-interest tax breaks to review.

“Our bill has gotten a bit bigger,” Albers told colleagues before the Senate approved the measure 52-0. The House did likewise, 146-25.

Last week the House had turned SB 6 into what’s known as a “Christmas Tree.”

For decades, legislative leaders late each session string bills and proposals onto innocuous measures that nobody could be against. Such “Christmas Tree” bills have often been a collection of tax breaks.

Companies and industries hire some of the Statehouse’s top lobbyists to help pass tax breaks and get them renewed if those measures have a sunset provision — meaning they’ll expire after a certain amount of time if they’re not reapproved.

The state has seldom done a thorough review of tax breaks to see whether they do what lawmakers were told they would do. In recent years, however, legislators have sought to study a select number of tax breaks each year.

Albers’ tax review bill easily passed the chamber earlier this year.

The House tacked onto SB 6 legislation that gave or extended tax breaks in a host of areas, for short-line railroads, for medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers, on concrete equipment and supplies, for people who get giant yachts refurbished, for mega-site corporate projects, for Lockheed Martin to better compete for military jet contracts.

The final measure did not end up including the renewal of a rural jobs tax credit program that Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, has for years publicly called a “scam.” He said the multilayered lending program, once known in a different form as CAPCO, didn’t produce the jobs that were promised and will cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

But Rep. Bruce Williamson, a Monroe Republican who sponsored the tax credit bill, said the program has been “very successful” in helping businesses in 23 rural counties.