You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Capitol Recap: Tax measure sets Georgia car dealers against each other

It’s March, when traditional powers are often matched up against each other.

Not just on basketball courts, but also the floors of Georgia’s House and Senate.

This past week — and possibly until the legislative session closes on March 30 — it’s been new-car dealers vs. used-car dealers.

The fight is over House Bill 340, which would change how the 7 percent motor vehicles tax is charged on the sales price of used cars, basing it on whichever is the higher between the sales price and the state’s book value. Currently, the tax is placed on the book value, which is generally lower than the actual sales price.

It’s a big deal, a hundreds of millions of dollars deal. The state estimates that by fiscal 2019 — the first full year the law would be in effect — the proposed change could mean an extra $237 million in title fee payments. That could rise to $268 million by 2022.

Used-car dealers say that would up the prices their customers would have to pay. New-car dealers — whose customers already pay their taxes on new-car purchases based on the sales price — see the current system as an unfair competitive advantage.

Both have prepared well for battle by greasing the wheels of government.

Combined, the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association (the ones who come with that new-car smell) and the Georgia Independent Automobile Dealers Association (who sell “previously owned” vehicles) have contributed about $1.1 million to the campaigns of lawmakers and top state officials in the past decade.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who as the Senate president plays a big part in what gets passed in the session’s final days, has been a good friend to both sides – although the new-car dealers have done more to shore up his support. The new-car political action committee has contributed more than $31,000 to his campaigns, making the PAC one of his largest political backers. Used-car dealers have contributed at least $4,500 to Cagle.

The used-car dealers also kicked in $8,750 for Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, another guy who has a lot to say in what happens in that chamber. The new-car dealers have given Shafer at least $6,500.

But did either side consider throwing in the floor mats and undercoating for free?

‘Sanctuary campus’ bill advancing

Legislation that seems to have momentum going into crunch time is the “sanctuary campus” bill.

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart’sHouse Bill 37, which cleared the Senate’s Higher Education Committee this past week, would restrict funds for universities that violate state and federal law by adopting polices that protect students who are living in the U.S. illegally.

Ehrhart’s reasoning is that if any university designates itself as a sanctuary, it’s a decision that school will make on its own dime.

“If you want to claim sanctuary status, which effectively ignores any statutory construction, then we as a state are going to say that’s not acceptable,” the Republican from Powder Springs told the committee. “You, as a private institution, can make that choice.”

Whether it passes seems academic. Ehrhart has apparently already accomplished his goal.

Back in November, after Donald Trump won the presidency, Emory University issued a statement that said the school would continue to support “Dreamers,” people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children and had been granted a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation by an executive order from then-President Barack Obama.

Even though Emory is a private school, Ehrhart’s bill could cost it a critical amount of funding. In 2015, state agencies and the University System of Georgia paid Emory facilities $96 million for various services. The biggest part, about $84 million, came from the Department of Community Health, which administers the Medicaid program for the poor, disabled and elderly.

In late January, after Ehrhart announced plans for his bill, Emory backed away from the “sanctuary campus” label.

State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, pointed that out during the Higher Education Committee hearing.

“Since it’s not broke, what are we fixing?” she said. “You’re proposing legislation to address something that doesn’t exist.”

Broken, fixed, whatever, the bill that has already cleared the House has a good friend in the Senate. Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis will be its shepherd in that chamber.

Tax holiday could wither away

It’s possible one of the state’s tax holidays could fall off the calendar.

One weekend a year, the state collects no sales taxes on the purchases of appliances bearing the “Energy Star’ or “Water Sense,” label as long as the price is $1,500 or less.

As tax holidays go, it’s kind of like Arbor Day, costing the state and local municipalities about $2 million in overall tax revenue. The much bigger weekend for tax-free purchases – with revenue loss measured in the tens of millions of dollars – comes in the summer when consumers benefit from their purchase of “back-to-school” items. You’ll note the quote marks –the tax break also applies to items such as diapers, lingerie and inline skates.

Supporters of the smaller conservation tax holiday, including the Metro Atlanta Chamber, were hunting this past week for a way to renew it. A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday amended a separate tax measure, House Bill 93, to include the holiday.

Capitol Recap: This year, talk begins early on campus gun bill

Capitol Recap: Taxes are in the spotlight. Campaign in the shadows?

Capitol Recap: ‘Religious liberty’ bill runs into early trouble

Capitol Recap: Georgia wins water battle, but Army engineers on notice

Capitol Recap: Will Deal keep veto pen in holster for new gun bill?

Capitol Recap: It’s ‘Groundhog Day’ in Georgia for some legislation

Capitol Recap: Sunny economic forecasts don’t convince every Georgian

Capitol Recap: Georgia Legislature opens with liquor, pot on its plate

Staff writers Michelle Baruchman, Greg Bluestein, James Salzer and Kristina Torres contributed to this article.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

Table set for negotiating on Georgia income tax, e-retail levy
Table set for negotiating on Georgia income tax, e-retail levy

The Georgia Senate backed legislation Tuesday that would provide a $200 million income tax cut — mostly to upper-middle and upper-income earners — and that aims to force e-retailers to collect sales taxes on what they sell. The vote sets up tax cut negotiations between the House and Senate that may not end until the final hours of the 2017...
New regulations for petroleum pipelines in Georgia passes Senate
New regulations for petroleum pipelines in Georgia passes Senate

The Senate for the second time has backed a measure to rewrite the rules for building petroleum pipelines in Georgia, as lawmakers try to craft a compromise after controversy forced a temporary moratorium last year. The 43-8 vote Tuesday sends House Bill 413 back to the state House, which originally passed the measure as a public utility bill. A Senate...
Immigrant felon database, Homeland Security bill passes Senate
Immigrant felon database, Homeland Security bill passes Senate

A bill that creates a database of undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies passed the Georgia Senate Tuesday. Passage of House Bill 452, which requires the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to publicly post and share personally identifying information of unauthorized immigrants who have committed certain crimes follows a back and forth shuffle...
Georgia Senate backs $200 million income tax cut, e-retailer taxes
Georgia Senate backs $200 million income tax cut, e-retailer taxes

The Georgia Senate backed legislation Tuesday that will provide a $200 million income tax cut - mostly to upper-middle and upper-income earners - and that aims to force e-retailers to collect sales taxes on what they sell. House Bill 329 passed the House as a flat, 5.4 percent income tax rate for all Georgians, down from a top rate of 6 percent. The...
Georgia Senate passes ‘campus carry’ gun bill
Georgia Senate passes ‘campus carry’ gun bill

A measure to allow guns onto any campus in Georgia’s public college and university system passed the Georgia Senate on Tuesday, a crucial vote to keep it alive in the final days of the legislative session. “Frequently, invisible lines distinguish our college and university campuses from other properties — but we should never...
More Stories