Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Commenting is open.
By Bill Bolling
A recent AJC news story addressed Gov. Nathan Deal’s surprising decision to veto a bill in May, which would have reinstated sales tax exemptions for food banks and health centers, because it hadn’t been vetted by his competitiveness panel.
Many have asked me how food bank exemptions ended up in front of the Governor’s Competitiveness Council with film, technology, energy and other industries. I’m surprised myself.
On behalf of the state’s seven food banks and the nearly 2,300 community-based organizations we serve, I recently made our case alongside those industries for sales and use exemptions that are critical to hunger relief efforts in Georgia. At the Atlanta Community Food Bank alone, we can leverage one dollar into $8.47 worth of groceries for struggling families in the communities we serve.
The nonprofit sector has long partnered with the public sector in delivering critical services to the community. We are trusted to work efficiently, and with accountability. We bring private dollars to the table through individual and corporate contributions.
The sales tax exemption we seek for bulk purchase of food — one we had for many years before losing it two years ago — would allow us to buy food to provide hundreds of thousands more meals for Georgia families. In addition, the sales and use tax exemptions for prepared food donated for hunger relief would enable us to accept unsold food from restaurants that would otherwise send that food to a landfill. And should disaster strike, without the exemptions, private-sector disaster-relief donations of prepared food would be taxed.
Since 2010, we have worked with the General Assembly and the lieutenant governor’s and governor’s offices to renew these exemptions. We have had near-unanimous support, including the endorsement of the Georgia Chamber Economic Development and Taxation Committee. I understand every dollar has to count in this budget environment — all the more reason to make our case to the Governor’s Competitiveness Council that food banks can leverage these tax exemption dollars with efficiencies and partnerships in ways that many entities, including the government, cannot.
Gov. Deal said his priority was to create jobs for Georgians. He said people with good paying jobs don’t have expectations of government providing for their needs. We agree. But as government wants to play a lesser role in providing benefits for people in need, the nonprofit sector is expected to step up. These exemptions are essential to nonprofits already pressed to stretch resources as we strive to sustain our ability to serve.
Georgia’s seven regional food banks have long comprised a reliable network that delivers hunger relief critical to the one in five Georgians who don’t know where their next meal will come from. We believe feeding hungry children is a wise, long-term strategy to ensure they grow up healthy and ready to work as adults.
The governor is right in seeking to leverage every exemption Georgia grants. It is my hope and expectation that he will hold his administration accountable to closely examine each entity requesting exemptions before making such an important decision.
Bill Bolling is chairman of the Georgia Food Bank Association.