Human Behavior

There is definitely no logic to human behavior.

Our lawmakers move onward

The General Assembly session is more than two-thirds done and well on a fast track to adjournment.

It has been a session more noteworthy for what wasn’t done rather than what was done, and nothing illustrates that better than the bills to pave the way for casino gambling in the state.

This was supposed to be the biggest issue of the session. The casino operators have dispensed many dollars upon lawmakers and retained an army of lobbyists to get a bill out that would serve their purposes.

But by the end of last week, the sponsors of both the Senate and the House versions of the bills were unable to get their measures out of committee and were already talking about what they need to do for next year’s session.

With so much interest in a casino bill and with so many lobbyists pushing for it, how could the gambling bills not even make it out of committee?

The answer to that question lies in an old legislative practice called “shaking the money tree.”

A lot money is flowing to legislators while the casino issue is on the table. Five of the casino players – MGM Resorts, Boyd Gaming, Elite Casinos, Pinnacle Entertainment and Isle of Capri Casinos – have shelled out about $175,000 over the last couple of years in the form of campaign contributions to individual lawmakers.

A check of campaign disclosure records shows that MGM, for example, has given money to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston, and influential lawmakers like David Shafer, Butch Miller, Brandon Beach, Jeff Mullis, Jay Powell, Ron Stephens, Howard Maxwell, and Burt Jones.

If legislators were to pass the casino bills this year, then they would lose most of their leverage over these big-money contributors and would have no reason to keep asking them for more money.

By keeping the issue alive for another year, and maybe more, then legislators insure that there will be a steady stream of campaign contributions from the casino interests. They can keep shaking that money tree.

While lawmakers weren’t quite ready to pass casino legislation this year, they were more than happy to do that thing they do every session:  pass tax breaks for the state’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.

The House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) that will give the owners of yachts a tax break if they repair or overhaul their vessels.

We’re not talking about someone on Lake Lanier trying to fix their outboard. This sales tax exemption on parts and equipment only takes effect if more than $500,000 is spent on the boat project.

To paraphrase the late Ronald Reagan, a rising tide lifts all yachts.

Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) introduced another bill that would restore a sales tax exemption on the purchase of jet fuel by Delta Air Lines.  This tax break would be worth anywhere from $16 million to $33 million a year, according to estimates

Less than two weeks before Carson introduced this bill, Delta reported it had earned a net income of nearly $4.4 billion for calendar year 2016.  This is a well-established corporation making gobs of money, so why should the General Assembly give it a tax break?

“This is really a jobs bill,” Carson said.

That is one of the oldest political scams in the book, to justify a tax giveaway by claiming that it will “create jobs.”  Some of these incentives may actually result in a few jobs being added here and there, but most of them don’t. It’s just a lame excuse for giving some favored business a tax break.

We saw this thinking illustrated last week when the House was debating a bill from the aptly named Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta) that would give musicians a state income exemption on the royalties they earn from their songs and musical compositions.

Dollar, of course, claimed that this would keep musicians in the state and give Georgia a part of the music industry. The problem here is that the music industry is in rapid decline, with sales and revenues dropping sharply in recent years for various technological and cultural reasons.

How does Georgia’s economy grow by giving away tax money to an industry that’s almost on its death bed? It doesn’t.

Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) had the good sense to see through this bogus reasoning. If we’re going to be granting tax breaks, Teasley said, why not give them to people like firefighters, police officers, and teachers?

For a moment there, the House of Representatives actually displayed some common sense and resoundingly rejected Dollar’s bill.

But the measure was taken back to committee, some arms were twisted, and when the bill returned to the House floor several hours later, it passed by a narrow margin.

Some people just never learn.

© 2017 by The Georgia Report

Tags: General Assembly , tax breaks

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