By Maria Saporta
A revolutionary bill is worming its way through the legislature.
House Bill 335, formerly House Bill 1049, would permit each county in the state of Georgia to vote on a partial penny sales tax for the arts, quality of life initiatives and economic development.
For the first time in Georgia’s history, counties may be able to pass a fractionalized, multi-purpose sales tax depending on the needs in the various jurisdictions. The bill, however, would require that a small percentage of that sales tax would be spent on the arts and cultural attractions.
Earlier today (April 26), the bill passed out of the House Rules Committee. It will go to the Senate floor tomorrow for a vote. It then would go to the House floor for a vote.
If there are differences between the two houses, then it would go to a conference committee. If, or when, that happens, then the bill would end up on the desk of Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The fact that the bill has gotten this far is a bit of a miracle. There have procedural issues and roadblocks along the way. But the bill has survived partly because of strong support on both sides of the aisle.
The bill also is quite popular among local officials (who have shared their feelings with their legislators) because it would provide a new funding mechanism with tremendous flexibility to county governments that have been strapped for cash. Counties also could decide on when they would want to put the tax (a full penny or a fraction thereof) before voters.
Georgia’s arts and cultural communities also have been working hard for the passage of the bill, believing that it could be the difference of whether some arts organizations go out business or survive or thrive.
Unlike the highly publicized effort to save the Georgia Council for the Arts, the bill has been making its way through the legislature a bit under the radar.
The Georgia Council for the Arts had been slated for extinction when the House of Representatives passed a budget that would have zeroed out all funding for the council.
Georgia would have been the only state in the country without an arts council. Georgia also stood to lose nearly $900,000 in federal funding for the arts had it killed the arts council
When those facts came to light, a passionate campaign to save the council was launched complete with protests at the state capitol.
Partly because of the public pressure, the Georgia Senate restored funding for the council, and it now the prospects to fund the council are looking good (even though its funding has been slashed in the last four years).
Funding for the council would complement the passage of a county-by-county sales tax for the arts, quality of life and economic development. The council provides state grants to arts organizations, while the sales tax would allow counties to invest in their own local institutions.
The arts bill also has been overshadowed by the highly visible campaign to permit regions in the state to pass a one-cent sales tax for transportation. But now the transportation bill has passed after several years of painful disappointments.
Now only two days remain in the 2010 legislative session, and it is unknown whether the bill will survive.
But it’s amazing that the arts and economic development bill, proposed for the first time during the 2010 session, has gotten this far and has a better than even chance of ending on the governor’s desk.