Lost By A Fraction (A Blow By Blow on Fractional Percentage SPLOST)! – By Joel Aaron Foster

Mar 24, 2014 by AFP

A number of things happened in the process of losing House Bill 153 in the closing hours of the 2014 Georgia General Assembly. The clock, essentially, ran out on the legislation to allow a fractional percentage Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that would give counties added flexibility to raise only the sum of money needed to fund essential projects. It leaves taxpayers and limited government advocates asking, how does a bill that creates more government transparency, reduces wasteful spending and the penchant for cronyism fail in a state as conservative as Georgia?

It started a week before the closing bell. Here’s the play by play:

After a two-votes to passage in the Georgia House, the Senate Finance committee amended the legislation on March 7th, adding language at the behest of committee member Sen. Don Balfour that said more than one SPLOST would be allowed during a given period. The House language restricted that. The thinking was that by not requiring the flexibility to levy more than one SPLOST in a given period of a fractional SPLOST, it would undercut the argument to levy a fractional SPLOST at all because few counties would go for it if they knew they would not be able to levy another SPLOST for a given period of time, regardless of reason, without levying a full percentage SPLOST.

The Senate, unsurprisingly, approved their committee change. On March 13th, however, the House and bill sponsor Rep. John Carson, chose to disagree with the Senate change, which tee’d up the bill for one of several outcomes.

Several plays could have been made after the House disagreed with the Senate’s change:

1) If the Senate Insisted on it’s change, the House would have to conference with House and Senate members to come up with compromise language each chamber could vote on.
2) If the chair of the committee that made the change, Sen. Judson Hill, agreed to rescind the Senate version, then the Senate could simply agree to the original House version of the bill. Sen. Hill agreed to do just that.

A number of AFP activists worked the ropes throughout the morning of the final day of the Georgia legislative session in support of HB 153 on the Senate side. AFP Ga activists got a tip that some folks were lobbying the Gwinnett Senate delegation to oppose the bill. AFP’s Carolyn Garcia spoke with Sen. Renee Unterman later in the day and she confirmed that, indeed, the Gwinnett delegation liked the Senate, not the House version.

Senator Hill made a move in the evening to motion to rescind the Senate version and Lt Governor Casey Cagle (who has the privilege to do so) denied the motion. By this time, Sen. Hill was hearing that the Gwinnett delegation and others were threatening to filibuster HB 153 if it came up for debate – a move that would have effectively shut down Senate action in the final hours of the session. This may have played into Cagle’s decision to not take the motion, in an effort to keep the Senate from shutting down. They had yet to hear debate on the marijuana bill or the gun bill at that point. (Incidentally, there was also another AFP supported bill, HB 900, that had not been heard at that point either). The feeling was that threatening to shut down business with another 30-40 bills on the table and jeopardize all of those over a filibuster for a House bill would be unwise.

The Lt. Gov did allow Sen. Hill to bring back up the bill one last time before the end of the session but that was with only a few minutes to go. Sen. Hill made the motion to take the House version and, sure enough, 8-10 lights went up with questions. Sen. Hill tried to “call the question”, a process that takes the debate straight to a floor vote. Theoretically, it could have been called but that is very rare without allowing for questions when they are on the floor. HB 153 was the final bill of the night and basically ran out of time in view of a Senate filibuster threat.