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Headed for the Home Stretch
Steve Gooch
Steve Gooch

The 11th week of the 2018 Legislative Session was packed with three legislative days and committee meetings throughout the week. There was plenty to do and we worked long days to accomplish many of our goals as we headed into the home stretch.

During last week, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2019 General Budget, also known as House Bill 684. The FY19 General Budget is around $26 billion and is built on approximately 2.4 percent state fund growth. Increases for transportation projects, health care and economic development in rural areas are all accounted for in the FY19 budget. The Senate passed this budget on Friday with some changes to the House version. The bill was then sent to a conference committee where members from each chamber met to come up with a compromise.

I carried two House Bills in the Senate this week – House Bills 696 and 735. HB 696 creates a sales and use tax exemption for electricity and computer infrastructure used by high-technology data centers. If Georgia wants to keep growing, we have to create a business environment to attract emerging technology companies to our state. Under the provisions of HB 696, a tiered system will be created to give data centers tax exemptions if they meet a ‘minimum investment threshold.’

In order to attract these centers to rural Georgia for job creation and economic growth, I amended HB 696 in committee by creating separate investment thresholds based on population. A center would need to invest at least $150 million in counties with populations of fewer than 50,000 and for counties with a population less than 30,001, the threshold is $100 million. Additionally, a center must create at least 20 high-quality jobs and meet a series of other requirements, which fall into the tiered system. The bill also contains an exemption certificate process and has annual reporting requirements.

House Bill 735 creates an income tax credit for Class III railroad tracks for up to 50 percent of maintenance costs. Class III railroads are usually short-line tracks, so this tax credit will benefit small businesses operating in Georgia. In addition to creating the credit, HB 735 will also exempt land within a railroad’s right-of-way that is covered with rail from any local government fees related to the collection, disposal or general management of storm water. This exemption does not apply to the railroad’s station, maintenance building or any other land used for railroad purposes. Additionally, a tax credit would be created for carpet facilities that purchase $20 million in qualified investment properties and create 25 new full time jobs between the years of 2018 and 2020.

Last week, I was also given the opportunity to welcome two very impressive University of North Georgia cadets to our Chamber. We honored them with Senate Resolutions 818 and 819. SR 818 commends Cadet Bryton Wenzel, who was ranked as the fifth Army ROTC cadet in the nation. He will soon graduate as a Distinguished Military Graduate and will be commissioned with the Georgia National Guard as a second lieutenant upon his graduation.

Cadet Andrew Gomez was honored with SR 819, and he was ranked as the second Army ROTC cadet in the nation. He was also named to the 2017 National Order of Merit List of the United States Army Cadet Command and will graduate as a Distinguished Military Graduate this year. He will also be commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation and will be joining the Army Cyber Branch. It was truly an honor to have these distinguished cadets and other members of UNG with us.

Our very busy week resulted in the passage of 54 pieces of legislation for the people of Georgia. I look forward to continuing my work for the members of the 51st District as this session winds down, and as always, I am here to help if I can be of service in any way.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as the Senate Majority Whip.  He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties.  He may be reached at (404)656-9221 or via email at steve.gooch@senate.ga.gov.