The biggest change in the transportation bill that was approved just before midnight Tuesday was a new $5 surcharge on hotel and motel stays. The new tax, inserted as a late addition into House Bill 170, is projected to raise at least $150 million a year for Georgia's transportation network.
State Rep. Jay Roberts, the measure's sponsor, said negotiators opted for the hotel tax over a rental car fee to shift the burden to outsiders. About 50 percent of Georgians rent cars in-state, he said, while the number of residents who stay in hotels here is far lower.
"We'd rather look at those coming into our state - we still want them coming into our state - who use our roadways," said Roberts, who said the fee would raise closer to $200 million a year if hotel occupancy jumps from 50 percent to 60 percent.
Back during the 2013 debate over the stadium, Gov. Nathan Deal ended up punting the debate to Atlanta councilmembers amid staunch opposition from conservatives who didn't want to use public funds to build a $1 billion-plus new NFL stadium.
This time around, the debate over relying on hotel taxes to fund infrastructure needs lasted just a few hours. The loudest GOP dissent came from state Sen. Josh McKoon, who called it a "massive tax increase" and urged more time to weigh the proposal.
"Not only are we increasing the gas tax on voting for all Georgians, but there's also this hotel/motel provision," said McKoon, a Columbus Republican. "We're getting ready to propose a $5 tax."
The House passed the measure by a 129-41 vote, while the Senate approved it 42-12.