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Greg Bluestein

A second chance for a food bank tax break

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Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto last year of a bill that would have reinstated sales tax exemptions for food banks was one of the most surprising decisions he’s made in the governor’s office. He revisited that debate this morning.

Deal headed to the Atlanta Food Bank on Monday to sign House Bill 958, a package of tax bills that revives the incentives for food banks along with a range of other breaks that are estimated to cost more than $200 million.

In his veto statement last year, Deal said the breaks hadn’t been vetted by his competitiveness panel. But the veto, one of only a handful of proposals he nixed, came days after he signed other tax break legislation that hadn’t been reviewed by the group.

This time around, the food bank legislation was one of only two proposals that earned the panel’s highest endorsement. The other is an extension of a sales tax break for construction materials for projects deemed to be of “regional significance” that could be used to help the Braves and Falcons save millions as they start construction on new stadiums.

Both are lumped in as part of a broader proposal, House Bill 958, that includes other cuts that didn’t get the same blessing from the competitiveness panel. Among them are a $25 million tax break for video game developers, campaign-friendly back-to-school sales tax holiday and a similar tax-free zone for energy efficient items.

Deal has already signed another piece of legislation into law that gives businesses a chance to earn tax credits for buying trucks or buses that run on alternative fuels. That measure, too, wasn’t endorsed by the panel that Deal cited in his vetoes last year. Other bills that also failed to earn the panel’s OK are also pending. When pressed on the issue a few days ago, he suggested his view had changed.

“The panel’s input is always important,” Deal said in that interview. “But sometimes they don’t have the opportunity to review everything that moves.”

Bill Bolling, Atlanta Community Food Bank’s director, was visibly relieved after the bill signing. He was one of the measure’s biggest champions and said it would help save food banks $2.5 million, enough for at least one million additional meals. But he’s still surprised the tax break was vetoed last year.

“I feel very good that we got it signed but I still see no reason that we lost it in the first place,” said Bolling. “This makes all the sense in the world. To make food banks pay taxes on food for the hungry made no sense.”

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Democrat Michelle Nunn reports another strong fundraising quarter in her Senate bid. The Democratic frontrunner took in $2.4 million the first three months of the year, her best fundraising quarter yet. Her cash on hand totals weren’t immediately available.

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