ATLANTA — Hotel owners and operators must wait until Monday before they know officially whether the hotel/motel tax in Dougherty County will increase from 7 to 8 percent even though technically it was passed by the House in an odd bit of political maneuvering Thursday.
House Bill 233 is a piece of local legislation that would raise the tax that hotel owners pay the city of Albany to the state limit of 8 percent. The city would then split that money with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce through the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But what typically is a routine and simple measure, requiring only a simple majority of 91 votes for passage, grew more complex when House leaders lumped a controversial bill that calls for a referendum on whether residents in Fulton County can double their homestead property tax exemptions — a bill that requires a two-thirds majority, or 120 votes, to pass.
It was enough of a political hot potato for some Democrats to forgo voting on some of their own bills to make sure the 120 vote threshold for HB 541 wasn’t met.
“We knew we had the votes to pass the local legislation,” Albany Democrat Winfred Dukes said. “So we really didn’t need to vote.”
Dukes’ colleague and Albany Democrat Carol Fullerton took things a little further.
“I didn’t vote because I didn’t want my name attached to a bill that would decimate Fulton County,” Fullerton said. “They knew they needed a two-thirds vote on a bill that wasn’t popular with Democrats so they put it in with other pieces of local legislation that they knew would get votes. But it didn’t work out, at least for now.”
Vote number 214, which includes HB 233 and HB 541, failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass by one vote, 119 to 45, with nine legislators, including Dukes and Fullerton, not voting.
A motion to reconsider the vote was passed and the House will again take up the bills on Monday, House officials say.
Carrie Hutcherson, in the House Clerk’s Office, said Friday that while the vote didn’t reach the two-thirds majority needed for HB 541 to pass, the bills that require a simple majority technically did.
“There was one bill that needed 120 votes to pass and the majority of the House voted to put it up for consideration with these other bills that just needed 91,” Hutcherson said. “Just because that one bill didn’t get a two-thirds majority, doesn’t mean that the others, who got their 91 votes, are excluded. Technically it passed but it won’t be official until Monday.”
If passed, the measure will generate an estimated $200,000 a year in new revenue for the city, officials estimate.