Proposal to aid Macon's financially strapped halls of fame heads to Senate

ATLANTA — A proposal to use an increased hotel-motel tax to financially help the sports and music halls of fame in Macon passed the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday, but a sealed deal is no further along.

It all comes down to the Senate now. And state Sen. Robert Brown indicated Thursday that he wouldn’t sign off on the deal, unless other local entities are funded with the tax.

But in typical Brown fashion, the senator indicated his intentions without actually confirming them. And in the Georgia General Assembly, nothing is ever dead until the final day of the session.

Still, the new penny tax, to be added to the existing sales tax on hotel-motel stays in Bibb County and Macon, would seem to have the same uphill battle it’s had for months now.

Local legislators found themselves unable to agree on a plan, with state Rep. David Lucas, in particular, pushing for a wider split to benefit at least the Douglass Theatre in Macon’s downtown.

That idea doesn’t have the support it needs from legislative Republicans to move. And Brown, D-Macon, has the power to block in the Senate the two-way split, which Republicans support.

Brown wouldn’t say specifically Thursday what plan he would or wouldn’t support, but he said he would back fellow Democrat Lucas, and Lucas said he won’t support a two-way split of the money.

“If it’s not a three-way equal split (including the Douglass), don’t worry about it,” Lucas said.

“So I think you’ve got your answer,” Brown said.

Asked if that stance kills the penny tax proposal, Brown would not say.

“I’m not pronouncing anything,” he said. “I’m not a coroner.”

There’s still an off-chance an agreement could be reached. Brown and Lucas could back the two-way funding split that would benefit the two halls of fame, which is what the Macon City Council and Bibb County Commission initially asked for.

The sports and music halls are state-funded, but the state has been cutting their budgets, leading to a push for local funding.

State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, and Republicans in the House could also agree to a three-way split of the money. Staton’s four-way split, in which the sports and music halls get most of the money and the Douglass and the Museum of Arts and Sciences split the rest, could get some traction. But anything other than the two-way split would require the County Commission and City Council to pass new resolutions requesting a different split.

That could be difficult with just one week remaining in this legislative session.

Peake said Thursday that if Brown will allow the two-way split to move forward, he’s willing to work toward adding yet another penny to the hotel-motel tax to benefit all of Macon’s museums, as well as the Douglass. That wouldn’t happen until next year, though.

Several legislators expressed frustration over the issue, which has been debated repeatedly this session with little success.

“We have danced this dance to much,” state Rep. Bubber Epps said, quoting another state legislator.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.