Odds turn against Macon-Bibb hotel-motel tax

ATLANTA — There is still time in this legislative session to pass an increase in Macon and Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax to help fund the Georgia sports and music halls of fame, but Thursday was not a good day for that effort.

State Rep. David Lucas who, along with other local legislators, has been trying to get a penny sales tax increase through the House of Representatives, thought he’d take a big step Thursday. After meeting with Speaker of the House David Ralston on Wednesday, Lucas said he expected to see his bill raising the tax get through the House Rules Committee.

That’s the committee that decides what bills make it to the full House floor for debate. It’s a choke point in the legislative process and a crucial step nearly every bill must take.

But when the Rules Committee met Thursday morning, Lucas’ House Bill 993 didn’t make the cut. It remains in limbo.

“I don’t know what the status is,” Rules Committee Chairman Bill Hembree, R-Winston, said after the meeting.

There’s a strong lobbying effort against the bill, which would split the proceeds from the extra penny tax among the halls of fame and the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon. The halls are state funded, but they’ve taken repeated cuts as state revenues have fallen.

Some legislators have advocated for further cuts, and some want to see the halls moved to Atlanta. State leaders have made it clear they plan to wean the halls from state funding, and the increased hotel-motel tax is supposed to replace some of that funding.

But the hotel industry and conventions and visitors bureaus across the state are fighting the plan. State law reserves hotel-motel taxes for tourism promotion through CVBs, and both groups are trying to protect that.“We have been and will remain supportive of the attractions in Macon,” Ron Fennel, who lobbies for the Georgia Hotel and Lobbying Association, said Thursday. “This isn’t the method to fund them.”

Thursday’s missed opportunity was “a big deal” as the General Assembly burned through day 27 of its maximum 40 allotted legislative days, Lucas said.

If the halls don’t get the extra funding, it could hasten their closure. But Music Hall of Fame Executive Director Lisa Love remained optimistic Thursday.

“We are grateful for the unified efforts of our local delegation to identify funding and advocate for continued support of the Music Hall of Fame,” she said in an e-mail. “There are encouraging efforts from the private sector going on as well. Our board will convene after the session ends to determine what the next steps will be to ensure the future of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.”

Lucas said he thinks the tax increase eventually will get out of the Rules Committee and onto the House floor. But he added, “I could be dead wrong.”

Once there, the bill will have to survive a floor fight, with CVBs and the hotel associations pushing legislators to vote against the bill. If the bill passes the House, the fight will start over again in the state Senate.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.