Lucas drops push for stadium, but tax split still undecided

ATLANTA — Macon State Rep. David Lucas has dropped his insistence that a new stadium and amphitheater be part of sales-tax deal for the sports and music halls of fame, but a final deal is no closer.

There are still roadblocks and a ticking clock: The Georgia General Assembly adjourns April 3, and only the assembly can enact the deal.

That deal would raise Macon and Bibb County's hotel-motel tax by a penny on the dollar. The question has been who would get the extra $400,000 or so generated each year.

Lucas' new support for a 3-way split — between the sports and music halls and the Douglass Theatre downtown — comes after other state representatives essentially bypassed him. The long-time Macon Democrat had been standing firm behind a four-way split, with some money to pay for a new amphitheater and football stadium in Macon.

But state Rep. Allen Peake already has the votes he needs in the House of Representatives to push a two-way split through. State Rep. Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch, joined with Peake and other House Republicans to support that split.

Essentially the problem is now in the Senate, where it will be up to state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Sen. Robert Brown to decide things.

A majority of local legislators in both the House and Senate have to agree to a split before the hotel-motel tax can be raised. And in the Senate, with only two local members, unanimity is the only majority.

Brown, D-Macon, wouldn't say what split he'd vote for Wednesday. But Peake and Staton both said he's blocking any movement on a two-way split to benefit just the halls of fame.

"The decision will be squarely in Robert Brown's lap," said Peake, R-Macon.

In the past, Staton has been open to a three-way split. But not anymore. The north Bibb Republican said Wednesday that he'll entertain only the original two-way split for the halls, or a three way split that gives some money to the Museum of Arts and Sciences as well as the Douglass.

"They serve more children than probably any other entity," he said.

Even if a new agreement on a three-way split can be struck among legislators, the Macon City Council and Bibb County Commission would still have to act quickly. Changing the hotel-motel tax requires a resolution from each body. Each has authorized a two-way split but neither has authorized a wider split.

Epps, the newest member of the local delegation, said he just wants to help pass whatever the city and county government want passed, regardless of the split. That's why he broke rank with other Democrats and signed the two-way split. Before that, things were deadlocked in the House, where Macon and Bibb County are represented by three Democrats and three Republicans.

Both the sports and music halls are looking for new funding because the state, which built the museums and funds them, has been cutting their budgets.

Lucas has said the state should fully fund hall operations. He said he dropped his insistence on a four-way split because he's found a private investor to help pay for a feasibility study for a football stadium and amphitheater. He would not name the investor.