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New sales tax laws could affect Bibb SPLOST

ATLANTA — A potential change in state sales tax laws could be rolled into Macon and Bibb County’s upcoming SPLOST plan, pumping new money into the cash-strapped sports and music halls of fame in downtown Macon.

Other local museums and facilities also could benefit if the changes in House Bill 1049 make it through at the statehouse. And with the bill gaining momentum, local officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude as they work to put together a SPLOST plan that voters will decide later this year.

Under current sales tax rules, SPLOST revenue can only be used to build things, not to operate them. House Bill 1049 would change that. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, passed the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this week. It remains to be seen whether the bill will keep moving, but that should be made clear by the end of the week.

Potentially, the SPLOST project list could be tweaked so that a tenth of each penny it raises is split between the halls and other cultural groups or potentially just the halls.

“I’m very supportive of trying to do something for those halls of fame,” said Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, whose commission ultimately controls what projects make it on the SPLOST ballot. “And if this thing can be worked into something ... I’m very interested in it.”

There’s a separate plan to fund the halls — which are being weaned from state tax dollars — by raising the area’s hotel-motel tax. But that effort is flagging at the Capitol. House Bill 993, which would increase the hotel-motel tax, is stuck in a House of Representatives committee controlled by the House leadership. It faces significant opposition from lobbyists seeking to protect hotel-motel tax money for tourism bureaus instead of the halls.

With hope fading in that effort, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has asked Hart and Macon Mayor Robert Reichert to draw out negotiations for the special purpose local option sales tax and see what happens.

Of course, those negotiations are already drawn out by the fact that the city and county haven’t come to terms over a project list. There’s also the city’s insistence that other issues — namely who pays for what service under the service delivery strategy agreement between the governments — be hashed out first.

The mayor’s office said Tuesday that Reichert wants to deal with that issue before turning to the SPLOST or the possibility of including the halls of fame in it.

Friday is “crossover day” at the state Capitol, and bills that are going to become law this year generally need to pass either the House or Senate by Friday.

“This has got a good chance of passing,” Peake said Tuesday. “We’ll know better by the end of the week.”

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.

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