Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tax-Break Discontent Grows State Senator Asks for 5 Firms' Names

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tax-Break Discontent Grows State Senator Asks for 5 Firms' Names

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Pressure is growing for the release of the names of five companies getting special breaks on their state income taxes, punctuated by a letter last week from the Republican leader of the Senate.

Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah sent letters to four state agency heads who together decided to grant $98 million in tax breaks to companies that agreed to provide lucrative jobs to rural Georgians. The agencies say they can't name the companies or give details about their special arrangements because state law requires that tax information be kept confidential.

"There seems to be an attempt to keep the names of the companies, the amounts of the individual tax breaks, and the basis of the special privilege secret from Georgia's taxpayers and policy makers," Johnson wrote. "I believe that this secrecy violates state law, and I am asking for that information immediately."

Johnson's letter requests the companies' identities, the amount of tax break each gets, what the companies promised to get the arrangements and whether there are any audits to assure those promises are kept.

Without that information, the program can't be accurately evaluated, he wrote.

"How can we, as policy makers, assess the value of the program?" Johnson wrote. "How can taxpayers determine if the new jobs were worth the targeted tax breaks? And how can we be assured that no favoritism was granted to powerful interests or that the firms delivered on their commitments?"

The Times-Union requested the same information from the Department of Revenue on Nov. 6, asking that materials be provided even if confidential items were blacked out. Revenue Commissioner Jerry Jackson declined in a reply delivered last week.

He did write that his department had no record that any elected officials had lobbied on behalf of the companies.

He also forwarded a memo prepared for officials to respond to news inquiries about the program. …

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