Senate panel stalls bill on Sandy Springs hotel/motel tax
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By JIM WALLS
Jan. 27, 2016 — A bill allowing Sandy Springs to spend hotel/motel taxes on a new performing arts center stalled today as senators questioned whether the levy shouldn’t be abolished instead.
The bill would specify how a portion of the tax revenue could be spent once it’s no longer needed for its original purpose. That slice of the proceeds — 39.3 percent — has been used to pay off the bonds that financed construction of the Georgia Dome. The final payments on those bonds will be made this summer.
Rep. Wendell Willard, the bill’s sponsor as well as Sandy Springs’ city attorney, said the law is unclear about how the money may be spent once the bonds are paid off. Sandy Springs, he noted, had not been incorporated when the tax was approved.
Sandy Springs wants to spend its share — roughly $1.5 million a year — to help pay for a new 1,000-seat performing arts center, planned as part of a $172 million civic complex. Atlanta will use its share of the tax, which could extend to the year 2050, to help build a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
Some members of the Senate Finance Committee were skeptical about continuing to collect the tax, particularly considering the blowback from hotel and motel owners angry about a separate $5-per-room statewide tax imposed last year.
“It sorta sounds like here’s an opportunity to grab some money,” Sen. Bill Heath said.
Sen. Hunter Hill fretted that current law specifies 16 different ways that the city could spend the money, ranging from stadiums and convention centers to golf courses and dragstrips. “It’s basically a slush fund,” he said.
Hill and others said they’d like it better if the bill limited use of the tax proceeds to the performing arts center.
The bill was moved to an ad hoc subcommittee to be chaired by Sen. Bruce Thompson for further study.