Georgia’s state House members are in near unanimous agreement: It’s time to offer state tax credits to help revive fading rural towns.
“The rural bill targets downtown areas that are suffering from difficult economic times,” said state Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville, the author of House Bill 73.
The measure offers state tax credits for three steps of investing in a qualifying area: for buying real estate, for rehabbing it and for employing people there.
“You don’t get to take any of these tax credits until you have two full-time employees” or equivalent part-time employees, Houston said on the House floor recently.
Many Middle Georgia cities would meet the first criterion in the bill to be a “revitalization zone:” the population must be less than 15,000 people.
But the place must also have a concentration of commercial buildings that are at least 50 years old, among other rules. And the local government must also prove “economic distress.” That’s something the state will determine based on poverty rate, downtown vacancies or blight.
State Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, voted to approve the bill. He said he thinks it could help move the needle in some small towns.
“If we could just get a little economic development in these towns, it spurs a lot of other things,” Dickey said.
“Look no further than downtown Macon. Once you get some buildings rehabbed and people living there, it draws more business,” he said.
Every year, the Legislature hears a lot of pitches for tax breaks and claims that a lower tax bill would generate more overall growth. Just this year, the Legislature is considering breaks for the music industry and for big boat and yacht repair, among other interests.
Dickey said HB 73 is one the Legislature owes it to Georgia to try. He also said the bill is written in a conservative way.
There are caps on the tax credits: no more than $125,000 for purchasing a property, no more than $75,000 on the rehabilitation work and no more than $40,000 for job creation.
The House approved the bill by a vote of 158-3. It’s now up to the state Senate to decide if it will take action.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee