Nathan Deal signs tax break aimed at landing a Super Bowl for Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon, left, shows off the model of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to automotive journalists at the Atlanta Falcons ticket sales preview center in Buckhead. Wednesday, October 28, 2015. J. Scott Trubey/Staff

Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon, left, shows off the model of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. J. Scott Trubey/Staff

Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation Thursday aimed at bringing the Super Bowl and other big-ticket events to Atlanta, despite criticism from lawmakers who raised questions about giving sports leagues a lucrative tax break.

House Bill 951 also gives Georgia back-to-school shoppers a sales tax break for a late July weekend and restores an incentive to buy energy efficient products. But the provision that helped splashy sporting events and their team owners sparked the most debate.

Supporters cast the measure, which exempts state and local sales taxes on tickets for the major sporting events, as a necessity to land the Super Bowl and showcase the nearly $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium under construction in downtown Atlanta. It also extends a similar break for all-star games, college championships and any other game deemed to qualify as a “major sporting event” by top Deal deputies.

The Atlanta Sports Council, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Deal said the $10 million or so in Super Bowl ticket revenues it would cost the city and state in tax revenue was a pittance compared to the economic impact of more than $400 million, along with $30 million in direct sales tax revenue, that the big game would generate.

It passed by hefty margins in both chambers amid criticism from a bipartisan band of critics who cast it as “extortion” and “crony capitalism.” In a heated debate on the Senate floor, state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said the measure amounted to a “sacrifice at the altar” to bring the Super Bowl to Atlanta.

“The point is we should not be creating winners and losers in our tax policy,’ he said during the March debate. “We should not have a tax policy that favors these kind of sporting events over other events.”

Atlanta submitted a preliminary bid for both 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls. The city faces competition from Miami, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Tampa in their bids.

The tax break is the latest incentive aimed at helping the new stadium under construction next to the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta has already committed $200 million in bonds backed by hotel-motel taxes for construction of the Mercedes-Benz stadium.

The Falcons and the Atlanta Braves — the baseball franchise that is building splashy new digs in Cobb County — both were told they would not have to pay sales taxes on construction materials for their facilities. That’s millions of dollars in savings in addition to hefty public subsidies they already received.

And lawmakers last year approved a $23 million proposal to extend a parking deck near the Falcons stadium, adding to the more than $30 million for parking and land for the site that the state is earmarked to spend.

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