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How key Georgia priorities fared in the final GOP tax plan

WASHINGTON -- After weeks of tinkering, GOP leaders are out with their final tax bill. As far as we know, all 12 Georgia Republicans plan to back the once-in-a-generation overhaul, which is expected to come up for a vote in both chambers of Congress early next week.

Check out our colleague Jamie Dupree's top-level summary here. Here's how some items of interest to Georgia fared in the final plan:

Local universities and hospitals: One of the most substantial proposed changes in the House-passed tax bill largely flew under the radar: ending the tax-exempt status of bonds used heavily by local universities, hospitals and transportation authorities to help finance new construction projects. The provision prompted Gov. Nathan Deal to write to the congressional delegation warning how it would be "devastating to economic development." The governor's office must be breathing a sigh of relief -- those changes were ultimately stripped from the final bill...

MARTA: ... But the compromise tax legislation does end the tax-free status of another type of bond that MARTA has used to finance its projects. State and local governments have also used the scheme to refinance their outstanding debt and lower their costs when interest rates drop — similar to how people refinance their mortgages. MARTA previously warned making the change would have a “significant negative financial impact” on the system.

Plant Vogtle: The last remaining nuclear plant under construction in the U.S., plant Vogtle near Augusta, did not fare particularly well in the final tax bill. A provision in the House-passed measure that would have secured roughly $800 million in tax credits for the project did not make it into the final compromise plan. And the bill's proposed slashing of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent would actually cause stakeholders to lose money if the project is ultimately cancelled. That's why Georgia utility commissioners recently agreed to push up their final decision on Vogtle to next week.

Delta's Christmas wish: For a hot minute it looked like Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was going to secure Delta one of its biggest policy victories in years, but that effort was ultimately unsuccessful. The original Senate tax bill included language that would have cracked down on income tax exemptions provided to some of Delta’s fiercest competitors from the Persian Gulf. Delta, United and American Airlines have for years argued that Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways receive overly generous government subsidies that make them hard to compete with, and they've urged the U.S. government to retaliate. Isakson's language was ultimately removed from the bill before it came to the Senate floor and was not included in the final compromise plan.

Churches: A change to the tax code long sought by many social conservatives was excluded from the final tax bill. The House-passed tax overhaul repealed the 63-year-old so-called Johnson amendment, which bars churches and other tax-free charitable organizations and nonprofits from endorsing candidates for office. Opponents of the amendment said it limited pastors' free speech rights, while supporters warned repealing the language could create a new pathway for dark money to enter politics. The provision was reportedly removed on parliamentary grounds days before the final bill was released.

Graduate students and Atlanta-based corporations: Both of these groups have plenty to cheer about in the final tax bill. The legislation drops a proposed tax on tuition waivers that graduate and doctoral students receive for research work they do on campus. Local students warned the change would have caused a decline in scientific research productivity and hurt the local economy. Meanwhile, the compromise plan would slash the corporate tax rate nearly in half, a change that's long been a priority of companies like UPS, who say it will spur growth and make them more internationally competitive.

Film industry: Boosters of Georgia's booming film industry will likely be happy with what they see in the new tax plan. The legislation includes language allowing investors in film, television and live theater productions immediately write off their expenditures on their federal tax forms the year a project is made. Industry experts say the change would provide an incentive to financiers — those helping to underwrite everything from small independent films to blockbuster franchises — to invest in additional projects and take more artistic risks.

Season ticket holders: Snagging season tickets for Georgia Bulldogs games next season will likely be a little more expensive due to a provision buried in the final bill. The language repeals a charitable tax break afforded to people donating to universities for the opportunity to buy season tickets for sports games. Under the current system, donors can deduct up to 80 percent of the donations they make to athletic departments.

Craft breweries: Craft brewers will get their holiday cheer after all. The new tax bill includes a Senate-passed proposal slashing the excise tax paid by small craft breweries in half to $3.50 per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels produced. Industry groups have been pushing for the change for years on Capitol Hill, and it comes months after brewers won a watershed victory in the Legislature allowing them to sell directly to consumers for the first time since Prohibition. Cheers!

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.