Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, at a Capitol press conference on Thursday. Credit: Maggie Lee
One of Georgia’s most powerful political leaders is open to modifying some policies dear to Atlanta.
But Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is not joining any move to completely get rid of the state’s film tax credit or to take over the Atlanta airport.
His comments came in the same week that state auditors published two audits that rip holes in the administration and structure of the film tax credit program; and that a former city of Atlanta contract compliance official got sentenced to federal prison for wire and tax fraud. All of those things will be on the minds of state lawmakers when they start their annual session Monday.
First, the film tax credit.
This year if trends hold, Georgia can expect to issue credits that will see it forego something near $1 billion in taxes, as it tries to lure folks who spend money making films, TV shows and video games.
But the credits end up benefiting many people who reside in other states, according to auditors; and the state doesn’t do a good job making sure that only productions that should get the credits do the credits. Besides that, there’s no cap on Georgia’s tax credit, and since they’re tradeable and have no expiration date, plenty of credits are out in the world now and the state doesn’t know when they’ll get used. Plus, the state department that promotes Georgia as a film destination has been publishing inflated numbers of jobs and economic impact from the credit, according to auditors.
But at the other end of the film tax credit is working Georgians, Ralston said at a Thursday press conference, which happened to be scheduled just as the second audit was published.
“If we need to make some changes, I’m happy to have some discussion about that, but I think it’s important that we come into this process being very clear that we’re going to continue that” [tax credit] Ralston said.
Georgia’s film tax credit enjoys bipartisan support. Republicans crow about jobs and investment that they say come to the state in general. And Democrats boast about how at least some of the jobs are union and many are appearing in their blue districts.
But the state auditors work for the state Legislature, and the investigation signals that there’s appetite among at least some to tighten up the rules in some way.
As for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Ralston said he still has yet to see any case for the state trying to take over the city-owned asset.
“A separate question is: ’Is there a proper role for legislative oversight of operations of the airport?’” Ralston said. “That’s something I think we can have a discussion about.”
Such oversight would be modeled after MARTOC, Ralston said. That joint state House-Senate committee doesn’t have a vote on MARTA’s board, but it does meet a few times a year to review MARTA’s operations. MARTOC requires deep annual reporting from the agency and a management audit every four years.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms isn’t any more interested now in airport oversight than she was last year when the idea of oversight and a whole airport takeover were debated in the state Legislature.
“We have worked diligently on a number of reforms to ensure transparency and accountability in the city of Atlanta—including the soon- to-be-formed Office of Inspector General,” said a mayoral spokesperson via email. “Our position remains that a takeover or state oversight is unnecessary and ultimately detrimental to the people of Georgia and the entire region.”
Last year, with mainly Republican support, the state Senate approved an airport takeover, though that idea got no traction in the House. Supporters argue that one of the state’s biggest economic assets should be run by the state, not by a city that happens to be in a federal corruption investigation.
By Maggie Lee