House adjourns without taking up hotel-motel tax for halls of fame

ATLANTA — Friday was a tough day for the Georgia sports and music halls of fame in Macon.

A measure passed the state Senate that essentially says the state is looking for anyone interested in running, and funding, the halls. And it doesn’t matter whether they’d want to keep them in Macon or not.

Then the House adjourned early Saturday morning without taking up legislation to raise the local sales tax on hotel and motel stays by a penny to help fund the halls, as well as the Douglass Theatre.

That means the tax increase is probably dead for the year, leaving the state-funded halls to deal with budget cuts without the cash infusion. Legislative rules required House Bill 993, which would increase the tax, to pass the House by the 30th day of the legislative session to stay alive.

That was Friday.

The increase could always be pasted into another bill, one that did pass by Friday’s deadline, but that’s easier said than done.

“The speaker killed it,” state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, said as he left the floor shortly after midnight Friday.

Speaker of the House David Ralston said he’d hoped to give Lucas a vote on the bill, but debate on other bills ran long and the House ran out of time. The House started meeting at 9 a.m. Friday and went just past a midnight deadline to pass bills and move them to the Senate.

“The speaker didn’t kill it,” Ralston said. “I had hoped and planned to give Rep. Lucas a vote on that. So he has a right to be upset.”

A lot of bills didn’t make it to the floor Friday, including another that might have helped fund the halls. House Bill 1049 would change other sales tax laws so they could be used to fund the arts. That bill was also scheduled for debate but also didn’t make it to the floor.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t get 993 or 1049 to the floor,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. “I think we just ran out of time.”

Peake held out hope as he left the Capitol early Saturday morning, that one or both of those bills can be saved by pasting them into other legislation.

Even if House Bill 993 had made it to the floor for a vote, there’s no guarantee it would have passed. Several groups had been working against it, including convention and visitors bureaus across the state. State law is very specific about how hotel-motel taxes can be spent, and the CVBs were working to protect their right to the funding.

This is the second year in a row local legislators have tried to increase this tax at the behest of the Macon City Council and Bibb County Commission. Last year the local delegation couldn’t agree on how to split the money, and their inter-delegation squabbles killed the bill’s chances. This year they promised to work together, but outside forces have hindered the bill.

To contact writer Travis Fain call 361-2702.

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