Warnock bill aimed at land-grant university funding

Fort Valley State University

ATLANTA – U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., introduced legislation Wednesday aimed at ensuring the nation’s 1890 land-grant universities, including Georgia’s Fort Valley State University, receive their fair share of state funding.

Under federal law, states are obligated to provide equitable funding for all land-grant universities. However, historically Black land-grant universities have often been shortchanged.

“Our 1890 land-grant institutions have been punching way above their weight for far too long,” Warnock said Wednesday. “This legislation will bring us one step closer to ensuring historically Black land-grant universities get the funding they’re due. This is a win for Georgia students, Georgia farmers, and Georgia’s economy.”

According to the Biden administration, 1890 land-grant institutions are owed more than $13 billion in federal funding they should have received during the last three decades, including more than $600 million owed to Fort Valley State.

Congress passed legislation in 1890 establishing 19 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), with a goal of boosting research and teaching in the agricultural and food sciences. While Georgia has several HBCUs, Fort Valley State is the state’s only 1890 land-grant institution.

“We have made some very good progress in a number of states over the last few years,” said Paul Jones, president of Fort Valley State and chairman of the Council of 1890 University Presidents. “I’m hopeful that this effort will help us reach equity across our 19 universities from their respective states.”

Warnock is cosponsoring the Senate bill with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. A companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democratic Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Marilyn Strickland of Washington.

Bill aimed at closer scrutiny of Georgia film tax credit paying off

ATLANTA – A bill the General Assembly passed three years ago bringing additional scrutiny to Georgia’s film tax credit is reducing the program’s impact on state tax revenues, witnesses testified at a legislative committee hearing Wednesday.

House Bill 1037 requires all film productions located in Georgia to undergo mandatory audits by the state Department of Revenue or third-party auditors selected by the state agency.

The audits have allowed the revenue department to do a better job determining which expenditures by film production companies qualify for the film tax credit and which don’t, Chester Cook, the agency’s deputy commissioner, told members of a joint House-Senate committee formed to determine whether Georgians are getting a healthy return on the revenue the state loses to tax credits and exemptions.

Georgia’s film industry tax credit of 20% goes to production companies that spend at least $500,000 on qualified productions, with an additional 10% available for qualified promotions, typically featuring the Georgia peach logo at the end of a film’s closing credits.

But in reality, the result of the added scrutiny the audits provide is that more of producers’ expenses are being deemed as unqualified, which reduces the value of the tax credits.

“The effective rate of the credit is not 30%,” said Pete Stathopoulos, a partner with Cobb County-based Bennett Thrasher, one of five accounting firms the state uses to audit the tax credits. “It’s much less.”

Stathopoulos said the 2020 legislation also forces production companies to wait until a project is completed to apply for the tax credit. With projects frequently requiring multiple years to finish, that delays the process, he said.

“It has a downward effect on the credit benefit,” he said.

Other witnesses testified Wednesday that the state’s film tax credit is largely responsible for the $4.1 billion in direct spending by the industry in Georgia during the last fiscal year, according to a recent report from the state Department of Economic Development.

Film industry executives who responded to a survey commissioned by the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition said 92.1% of their spending in Georgia would not have occurred without the existence of the tax credit.

“In an era of increased competition for production … in Georgia, the credit is a cornerstone piece,” said Leon Forde, managing director of Olsberg Spi Ltd., the London-based creative industries consulting firm that conducted the survey.

However, Georgia’s film tax credit is by far the most expensive tax incentive the state offers, which prompted the 2020 legislation and contributed to the creation this year of the Joint Tax Credit Review Panel.

Several witnesses who testified Wednesday said the film tax credit is more than paying for itself.

Frank Patterson, CEO of Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, said the facility, with 32 sound stages and more than 1.5 million square feet of space, has spawned 65 local businesses with more than 1,000 employees.

“These dollars would not have been invested without the tax credit,” he said.

Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development, said the filming of the movie “American Made” a few years ago spurred the revitalization of downtown Ball Ground, which grew from just 12 businesses on Main Street to 26.

“It was the shot in the arm Ball Ground needed to start its redevelopment,” she said.

The review panel will continue meeting throughout the fall before recommending potential legislative changes for the full General Assembly to consider when lawmakers convene the 2024 session in January.

State Election Board defeats bid to offer voting with hand-marked paper ballots

Photo by Beau Evans

ATLANTA – The State Election Board late Tuesday unanimously rejected a proposal to let Georgians vote with hand-marked paper ballots in instances where using touch-screen voting machines cannot guarantee privacy.

Both state law and the Georgia Constitution require that voters be allowed to cast their ballots in secrecy. But that doesn’t always happen in Georgia, Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a ballot-security advocacy group, told board members before Tuesday’s vote.

“The screens are so large and so light it’s hard not to see how other people are voting,” she said.

Marks’ organization brought a proposed amendment to state election rules requiring touch screens be positioned so that no one can get behind a voter within 30 feet of a machine while voting is taking place. Adjacent screens would have to be at least eight feet apart.

Marks said most precincts are large enough to accommodate four to six touch-screen machines and still leave room for hand-marked paper ballot stations.

“You can clearly get one in each corner,” she said.

After Marks’ presentation, board members agreed something needs to be done to make sure precincts are in compliance with the state law guaranteeing ballot privacy. But they suggested other potential solutions could be worth considering, including bigger dividers between machines or protectors that make screens harder to read from a distance.

“This is a one-size-fits-all when there are other ways to ensure ballot secrecy,” board member Edward Lindsey said.

Board member Janice Johnston said allowing two types of in-person voting during elections – touch-screen machines and hand-marked paper ballots – might be confusing.

“It doesn’t seem to add to the potential for orderliness we’re striving for,” she said.

In making the motion to defeat the proposal, Lindsey said the board will continue working to come up with a solution.

“Rejection doesn’t mean the issue is gone,” he said. “We need further study.”

Georgia best state for business for 10th straight year

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Area Development magazine has selected Georgia as the No.-1 state for business for the 10th year in a row, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday.

Georgia placed in the top 10 for all 14 categories included in the magazine’s annual rankings and earned the No.-1 spot in seven of those categories.

Georgia has generated 343,650 new jobs since first receiving the award a decade ago, and that includes only economic development projects in which the state played a role.

Most of those jobs came to communities in rural Georgia, Kemp said during a ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion attended by state agency heads, legislators, and former Gov. Nathan Deal, who was in office at the time Georgia first won the designation as the best state for business in 2013.

“People shouldn’t have to move away from home to find good economic opportunities,” Kemp said.

The 2023 Top States for Doing Business Survey is the 14th in Area Development magazine’s annual series.

Georgia High School Association approves NILs for student-athletes

ATLANTA – Georgia high school athletes will be able to make money off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) following a unanimous vote by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) board.

Monday’s vote will put high school athletes on a par with their older brothers and sisters playing college sports. The General Assembly passed legislation two years ago letting student-athletes at Georgia colleges, universities and technical colleges receive compensation for use of their name, image and likeness.

The new high school rule comes with a number of restrictions in order for students wishing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by an NIL to maintain their amateur status.

Students may not wear school logos, school names, school uniforms, or any items depicting school mascots or any trademarked GHSA logo or acronym in association with NIL advertising.

No GHSA member school facility may be used. Student athletes may not promote products that conflict with a member school’s local school district policies, including tobacco, alcohol, or controlled substances.

Compensation paid through NILs must not be contingent on specific athletic performance or achievement, or as an incentive to enroll or remain enrolled at a specific school.

Students entering into an NIL agreement, or a student’s parents or guardians, must notify the school’s principal or athletic director within seven calendar days.

Students and their families should seek professional guidance as to how NIL activities could affect collegiate financial aid and/or tax implications.

Some high-profile Georgia college athletes have built substantial NILs since lawmakers legalized the agreements in 2021. Georgia Bulldogs tight end Brock Bowers, for example, has NIL deals that include Associated Credit Union, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Elliott International, an Atlanta-based executive staffing company.