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Crawford: State tax breaks go to the privileged
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William Henry Harrison, who had the bad fortune to serve only one month as president because of his untimely death from pneumonia, could have been talking about the Georgia General Assembly when he remarked: "All the measures of the Government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer."

It would be hard to argue with Harrison's statement after reviewing the session that finally adjourned last week.

On the last day of the session, the Senate and House of Representatives passed bills that will give Delta Air Lines a sales tax exemption on the purchase of jet fuel that will bring the company $20 million next year. Gulfstream Aerospace got a similar tax break worth an estimated $7 million or so.

These are not small, struggling startup companies. Delta reported more than $30 billion in revenues during 2010 and a net income of $1.4 billion. Gulfstream is part of an aerospace group that pulled in more than $5 billion in revenues and $860 million in operating earnings. You could argue that they don't really need a helping hand from the state.

Lawmakers also adopted a lucrative tax scheme that will funnel sales tax revenues to the developers of tourist attractions.

One such group, which includes Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, among its partners, is in the process of raising $1 billion to develop a sports complex in Bartow County. Thanks to the generosity of the General Assembly, the Ehrhart group could potentially be paid as much as $250 million out of sales tax proceeds that normally would go to the state.

There is another aspect of that tax break for developers that did not get much attention in media accounts. Gov. Nathan Deal will have the "sole discretion" to decide which developers will receive these tax breaks for building tourist attractions.

Think about the implications of this. You have a governor whose personal financial problems are so severe that he and his wife were trying to sell their home to pay off bank loans. There will be numerous groups of affluent developers asking that same governor to approve a tax break that could mean as much as $250 million to some of them.

I trust that everyone is going to make honest and ethical decisions about this matter. But it really has the potential to create some awkward situations for the state's chief executive.

Georgians on the lower end of the income scale did not receive quite as much generosity from our lawmakers.

You may remember that until a couple of years ago, there was a three-day period in the summer when parents received a sales tax exemption on the purchase of clothes, personal computers and educational supplies for kids going back to school.

That sales tax holiday cost the state about $12 million in revenue a year and was discontinued, for budgetary reasons, after the great recession hit Georgia.

Rep. Ellis Black, R-Valdosta, introduced legislation this session that would have restored that sales tax holiday. It never even made it to the House floor for a vote.

In summation: the General Assembly would not set aside $12 million to provide a sales tax break for the parents of school kids. It did vote to give a $20 million sales tax break to a multibillion-dollar airline.

Deal and the legislative leadership initially opposed attempts to make a technical change in state law that would bring in $175 million in federal funds to pay extended unemployment benefits to people who haven't been able to find a job during this economic downturn. Deal did remove his objections and legislators finally approved the tweak that will bring in the federal money, but it was a close call.

Legislators also cut back the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income families, reducing the state payments to physicians who treat Medicaid patients.

The end result of this session is that people with a lot of money could end up getting even more money; people who might have needed some assistance in making ends meet got little or nothing.

It reminds me of the old joke about bankers: they only lend money to people who don't need it. That could stand as a description of what our General Assembly did this year.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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