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County, concessionaires in HB 399 talks

Progress could kill anti-tax legislation

Clayton County lobbyist Murphy Talmadge explains efforts officials are making to kill House Bill 399 in the state Senate. If the bill becomes law, it would bar the county from collecting ad valorem taxes on leases of space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Clayton County lobbyist Murphy Talmadge explains efforts officials are making to kill House Bill 399 in the state Senate. If the bill becomes law, it would bar the county from collecting ad valorem taxes on leases of space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

— Clayton County officials hope to kill a controversial anti-airport tax bill without having to endure another grueling 40-day legislative term, the county’s lobbyist has confirmed.

Lobbyist Murphy Talmadge told attendees at a legislative town hall forum Monday that county officials are negotiating a truce with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport concessionaires. Officials and the concessionaires are engaged in a long-standing dispute over the county’s collection of ad valorem taxes on leases of space at the airport.

The dispute has led to the drafting of House Bill 399, which is aimed at stopping the county from collecting the taxes. The bill has already been passed by the state House of Representatives but it stalled in the state Senate.

“We were able to work with Senate leadership to [temporarily] defeat the bill,” Talmadge said. “What happens now is it goes back into the Senate Rules Committee once the legislature reconvenes next year. What we’re trying to do in the meantime is work with the concessionaires to provide pass-through for the tax, so that it doesn’t get taken off the current ad valorem tax.”

If negotiations are successful, the bill could potentially never make it out of the Senate. The county is trying to work out a way where it is not shut out of non-sales tax revenue streams at the airport — which belongs to the City of Atlanta — since the majority of it is located in Clayton County.

If both side agree to a pass-through set up, it would mean the county keeps that revenue stream by having concessionaires pay taxes on their profits.

“We’ve been looking for an opportunity to come to the table and work with the concessionaires and reach a resolution,” Talmadge said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that and we’re in that process right now.”

The bill has been caught for months in a public battle between its author, state Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin) and Clayton County legislators. At stake is about $12 million in tax revenue aimed at funding county government and schools.

Teachers will likely lose their jobs and school bus routes will probably be cut if the bill becomes law, interim schools Superintendent Luvenia Jackson warned Clayton County legislators in a March 22 letter. Transportation for athletics and fine arts events will also likely be reduced while cuts are made to fuel expenses for buses, officials suggested.

Officials are worried about the possibility of the bill becoming law because it would add on to previous legislation that granted fuel tax exemptions to Delta Airlines. The exemption cost the county about $20 million, local legislators said.

The county also lost millions of dollars in tax revenues when car rental agencies at the airport were moved to a consolidated facility in Fulton County more than three years ago.

“We’re getting hit and hit, and we’re going to get hit again,” said state Rep. Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale).