Politics & Government

Late deal uncertain in halls of fame predicament

ATLANTA — State Rep. David Lucas has dropped his insistence that a new stadium and amphitheater be part of a sales-tax deal for the sports and music halls of fame, but a final deal is no closer.

There are still roadblocks and a ticking clock: The Georgia General Assembly adjourns April 3, and only the Legislature can enact the deal.

That deal would raise Macon and Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax by a penny on the dollar. The question has been who would get the extra $400,000 or so generated each year.

Lucas’ new support for a three-way split — among the sports and music halls of fame and the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon — comes after other state representatives essentially bypassed him. The longtime Macon Democrat had been standing firm behind a four-way split, with some money to pay for a new amphitheater and football stadium in Macon.

But state Rep. Allen Peake already has the votes he needs in the House of Representatives to push through a two-way split that only involved the two halls of fame. State Rep. Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch, joined Peake and other House Republicans to support that proposal.

Peake said he expects that deal to be voted out of the House today, moving the problem to the Senate. There, it will be up to state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Sen. Robert Brown to decide.

A majority of local legislators in both the House and Senate must agree to a split before the hotel-motel tax can be raised. In the House, there are six local members, split equally between Democrats and Republicans. But in the Senate, with only two local members, a unanimous vote is the only majority.

Brown, D-Macon, wouldn’t say which split he’d vote for Wednesday. But Peake and Staton both said he’s blocking any movement on a two-way split that would only benefit the halls of fame.

“The decision will be squarely in Robert Brown’s lap,” said Peake, R-Macon.

In the past, Staton has been open to a potential three-way split. But not anymore. The north Bibb County Republican said Wednesday he’ll entertain only the original two-way split for the halls, or a split that gives some money to the Museum of Arts and Sciences as well as the Douglass.

“They serve more children than probably any other entity,” he said.

Even if a new agreement on a three-way split can be struck among legislators, the Macon City Council and Bibb County Commission would still have to act, and act fast. Changing the hotel-motel tax requires a resolution from each body. Each has authorized a two-way split, but neither has authorized a wider split.

Epps, the newest member of the local delegation and the swing vote on a contentious local issue, has said he’ll support whatever the city and county governments request, regardless of the split. That’s why he broke rank with other Democrats and signed the two-way split. Before that, the issue was deadlocked in the House.

Both the sports and music halls are looking for new funding because the state, which built the museums and funds them, has been cutting their budgets.

Lucas has said the state should fully fund the two halls’ operations. He said he dropped his insistence on a four-way split because he’s found a private investor to help pay for a feasibility study for a football stadium and amphitheater. He would not name the investor.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.

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