Dollar: Bill protects developments, but restores confidence
by Nikki Wiley
February 15, 2014 06:26 PM | 4201 views | 12 12 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Matt Dollar
Matt Dollar
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Ben Mathis
Ben Mathis
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MARIETTA — The Cobb Chamber of Commerce is standing behind the use of tax breaks to lure businesses and plans to oppose a state legislator’s bill aimed at increasing transparency among the agencies that control what is largely a secretive process.

State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb) introduced the Development Authority Transparency and Accountability Act in the Legislature earlier this month. Dollar is challenged for his House seat in this year’s Republican primary race by Karen Hallacy, who sits on the board of the Development Authority of Cobb County.

The bill, House Bill 921, would require development authorities to provide quarterly reports, giving counties, municipalities and local school boards a way to stay informed on upcoming development projects that might get offered special tax deals.

Dollar said he’s aware of the chamber’s position.

“There are many within the chamber, many within the Development Authority that don’t want any change, they just don’t want it,” Dollar said. “I’ve tried to work with the business community to create a bill that protects economic development, but restores the public confidence. Confidence has been shaken and it needs to be restored and that’s really all this bill does.”

But Ben Mathis, chairman of the Cobb Chamber, says the current setup works just fine.

Dollar’s bill is in reaction to controversy surrounding the Development Authority of Cobb County offering a 10-year tax abatement to a project backed by mega-developer John Williams and put forth by his local agent, Tad Leithead.

Though the $103 million mixed-use Riverwalk project failed to meet the county’s criteria to get a tax break, the Development Authority still offered the company tax incentives that would have saved it about $3.5 million over 10 years.

That caused an uproar among members of the Cobb Board of Education, who mounted a legal challenge claiming they should have been informed earlier about the lucrative offer and that it infringed on their right to levy taxes. Leithead withdrew the project application in January.

Mathis maintains that if Dollar’s bill were to become law, economic development across Georgia would become more difficult.

“The Chamber opposes the bill. I think everybody understands in a perfect world that it would be nice to not have to address abatements and incentives but that’s not reality,” Mathis said. “If it weren’t for abatements and incentives you wouldn’t have businesses like Caterpillar ... you wouldn’t have Kia (in West Point on the Georgia-Alabama line). In Cobb County, abatements and incentives help to secure the new developments that have led to Home Depot’s call center that have led to 700 jobs.”

Confidentiality is paramount, Mathis said, in courting large corporations seeking tax breaks, and Dollar’s legislation “almost guarantees” a breach of confidentiality and loss of confidence in Cobb.

“We lost an opportunity for a 1,500-job initiative in the last couple of weeks where the people involved feared the confidentiality issue,” Mathis said.

He also pointed to the quietly negotiated $672 million deal that will bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb.

“If there had been a breach of that confidentially, they never would have come here,” Mathis said.

Critics have argued unelected appointed boards, such as the Development Authority, should not have the sole power to hand out tax subsidies to wealthy corporations but Mathis says that line of thinking ignores that it was intentional to give an independent board power over economic incentives.

The state Board of Regents, which oversees Georgia’s public universities, is unelected but has discretion over how public money is spent, Mathis said.

He says that’s to keep the politics out.

“I think when you talk to the political people and ask the question, ‘Do you want to be voting on specific incentives?’ the answer is no,” Mathis said.

The current situation isn’t perfect, Mathis conceded, but he said it’s superior to a process that lets more individuals in the loop and provides more opportunity for news about prospective projects to be leaked.

“I think the current organization provides the appropriate way to handle these situations,” Mathis said.

Dollar said he’s aware of Mathis’s concern about confidentiality, but believes there is confusion over what his bill does.

“The bill does not compel them to reveal anything that is confidential,” Dollar said. “It’s a very straight-forward bill that tries to bring about more transparency and more accountability in the process to make sure the elected officials know what’s going on.”

State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), recipient of the state Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Legislator of the Year Award, said Dollar’s “pro-taxpayer” legislation simply ensures that local governments can be aware of potential significant revenue changes so they can budget properly while preserving the necessary confidentiality of the economic development projects.

“It’s really a timing issue: How do you ensure that schools can plan accordingly in a time of tight budgets while not blowing a significant economic development opportunity for the county as a whole?” Golick said. “As with all challenging issues, there is a balance to be struck, and my sense is that Dollar’s legislation seeks to find that balance.”
Comments
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Just Wait
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February 16, 2014
Mathis thinks that having Development Authorities keeps politics out of the mix. Bless his heart.
Connie Mack Jr
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February 13, 2014
" It works just fine and it is none of his business what Us 1% Corporate Good Ole Boys do in secret" Paraphasing * Water Boy Commeessar Ben for the COC

Oh My! What these fools will do for greedy corporate fascist profit at the expense of the Taxpayers and tell them to buzz off

anonymous
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February 13, 2014
RE: He also pointed to the quietly negotiated $673 million deal that will bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb. “If there had been a breach of that confidentially, they never would have come here,” Mathis said.

Uhhh, no...actually if the Development Authority/Chamber/Commission had not agreed to inflict a fleecing on the citizens of Cobb county to the extent that they had, then the Braves would not have come here. The cloak of confidentiality merely allowed the fleecing to take place in secrecy.

Confidentiality?
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February 13, 2014
They are kidding, right. To use the term "Breach of confidentiality" is pure nonsense, which I hope readers can see right through. They make it sound like it is a "bad" thing to let others know what is going on. A breach of confidentiality occurs when a person's privacy, or event, status can compromise their well-being. A breach of confidentiality does not occur when citizens of a county, or county entities that represent citizens want to know what another group is doing. Knowing something that leads a company to not move into a county is no where near a breach. Please people of the Chamber, try to be straight with the citizens in your region. Mr. Mathis makes it seem like it would have been a negative if the Braves had not decided to come here. Mr. Mathis, try looking at things from all perspectives, and don't say you did.
Fake Dollar Bill
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February 13, 2014
Before it is all said and done, Matt Dollar is going to wish he had never introduced such a weak minded bill. Not only will it hurt the business community (in the remote possibility that one of Matt Dollar's bills actually passes), it smacks of arrogance that is characteristic of state representative.
Kennesaw Rsident
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February 13, 2014
And Hallacy and her secretive cronies would be an improvement?

I don't think so and I'm betting most Cobb County citizens don't either. I just hope they go to the polls.
Craig Kootsillas
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February 13, 2014
Ben's use of the Braves deal as justification for secrecy is pure hocus pocus if you are well informed.

Through GORA requests, the briefing Kasim Reed got during the deal that included a market analysis and recommendations are now publicly available.

It's now known that Reed was in no position to make any deal.

Be honest and say that the secrecy was necessary to build the campaign necessary to shove the initiative through in record time.

That is not a honorable justification for secrecy.

Do you want to become informed? Do a search on Kevin Schmidt Cobb Braves
Craig Kootsillas
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February 12, 2014
For a couple years now, we've been waiting for real numbers that show how effective these "inducements" are.

How much revenue actually came to Cobb, how many jobs were created?

Then, we want to know how much the Development Authority cost Cobb.

How much tax revenue was given away and to whom?

Why do you not reveal this information - it happened in the past?

What tracks are you covering?

The District Attorney should be investigating.

anonymous
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February 13, 2014
Craig, that would absolutely let the cat out of the bag on the chamber cronies. They don't like that idea...a little too much reality in open view is not a good thing when you are thieving from others.
Siver Dollar
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February 12, 2014
Issuing bonds for Georgia development projects has been done a thousand times. It is not now nor has never been a problem...except in Cobb County. Cobb County should focus on Cobb County and fix whatever the problem is in Cobb County. Why is it that every time there is a problem in Cobb County, some representative needs to impose a "solution" on the rest of the State that neither wants nor needs it. State law doesn't need to be "fixed" Cobb County has internal political issues.
anonymous
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February 13, 2014
Silver Dollar, what you are really saying is that folks outside Cobb county have not yet caught on to the abuse that these Development Authorities mete out to the citizens. Sounds like you are either in blissful ignorance or are in fact a benefactor of the abuse that is meted out.
Craig Kootsillas
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February 13, 2014
The bonds are not the focus right now. The focus is on deals wherein title is exchanged for ten bucks and a lease is arranged.

Where did the capital for this transaction come from?

Why is the DACC even involved - other than to relieve a tax burden?

Worse yet, because no bond is involved, absolutely no oversight of these appointed officials has been possible.

It is Cobb Chair Tim Lee's belief that assets of the DACC "are not taypayers' funds."

If, in their minds, they were not working on behalf of taxpayers - who benefited from their decisions?

Prime Cobb real estate in and around Cumberland is involved.

One of my working theories at this time is that the DACC provided a safe haven for big developments to weather out the recent recession by providing tax relief.

Perhaps that's good. Perhaps that benefits the community.

Either way, it was done by a handful of people that felt they were running a private enterprise.

It ought to be examined. If it does, indeed, turn out to be the case that the DACC has been an investment club for the development community, that ought to be known BEFORE any changes to any laws are even contemplated.

The DACC is NOT cooperating.

I am hoping the District Attorney will persuade them to do so.

I'm not looking for anything but records of past transactions and help in understanding them.

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