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Monday, April 29, 2013 - 12:00pm

Bill To Boost Tourism, Startups

Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill Monday that he says will boost jobs in Georgia. The measure gives the state more ways to ease the financial burden on tourism properties and startups. Some worry it’s a tax giveaway for private firms that shouldn’t need public money to succeed.

The bill will allow the state to waive sales taxes for some developers of large tourism properties.

It also will set up a venture capital fund by which Georgia will back new firms with promising technology.

Chris Cummiskey heads economic development for the state. He says tourism is lucrative for Georgia.

“$2.6 billion dollars in local and state tax revenue," he said. "$2.6 billion dollars.”

Deal signed the bill at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of Georgia’s top tourist draws. He says it’s a job bill. The law amends an earlier measure, which gave the Governor the right to choose which properties were eligible.

But in an interview after signing the bill, he said it didn’t give the revenue department enough power to make rules for the tax breaks.

It’s one of several bills lawmakers had to re-write.

“We try to be careful but sometimes you can’t anticipate everything that’s going to occur,” Deal said.

He says he plans to sign an overhaul of the state's ethic rules, and he's already said lawmakers may have to tweak that measure, too, even though he hasn't even signed it yet.

Some say taxes will fund unproven startup firms under the bill signed Monday. Deal says he hopes private investors will step in, and lawmakers decided not to allot any money for the fund in 2014.

The law treats the two groups differently. For tourism properties, some developers will be eligible for tax breaks. To fund small innovative firms, the state will allot money from the budget as it does for education or public safety.

Alan Essig heads the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. He says the question, however, remains the same for both types of expenditures.

“Are we really creating jobs? And are the benefits outweighing the costs of what we’re giving up in funding education and funding really important things for economic growth?”

Essig says lawmakers made a wise decision in holding off on funding

Deal says about 400,000 Georgians work in tourism and it generates about $50 billion in economic activity for the state each year.

The Governor will accelerate the pace of bill-signing this week. He has until May 7 to sign or veto bills passed during this year’s legislative session, which ended last month.

He has yet to sign a bill that will limit lobbyists’ expenditures on Georgia lawmakers to $75. The bill is considered a historic step in a bid to rein in the influence of special interest groups at the Gold Dome.

On Monday, he said he plans to sign it, even though it will overturn a measure he boosted when he was a state Senator. That bill required lobbyists for state agencies to register.