012518 earmarks

Activists with the Georgia Water Coalition top off the "Scrapitol," a replica of the state capitol constructed from scrap tires, during a rally in March 2017 at the Capitol. The rally brought attention to the Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust Funds which have been repeatedly diverted by state budget writers.  (submitted photo)

Levies such as the $1 tire replacement fee — meant to clean up illegal tire dumps — and super-speeder fines for trauma centers, are often diverted to pay for other services.

Mayor Jamie Doss said the board intends to formally urge passage of House Resolution 158, which would ban the practice except in the case of a financial emergency. The Georgia Municipal Association is asking all its members to do the same.

"It sets up a vote on a constitutional amendment, so fees earmarked for a specific purpose are used for that purpose and don't go into the general fund," Doss said.

Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative and other members of the Georgia Water Coalition also have renewed their support of the legislation. HR 158 was introduced last year by Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, and co-sponsored by Republican Rep. John Meadows of Calhoun.

CRBI Executive Director Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman said $15.7 million was collected for the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund in 2017.

But, even though Georgia Environmental Protection Division officials told lawmakers they have a backlog of 65 toxic waste sites to clean up, just $4 million was budgeted for the work.

"Our legislators' failure to put our money into these important clean community programs is having direct impacts on our local neighborhoods," Demonbreum-Chapman said.

Driver's education for teens, recycling programs and management of abandoned landfills are among the other programs with dedicated funding sources. But without earmarks enshrined in the state constitution, lawmakers can — and do — use the revenue however they choose.

"The annual looting is eroding citizens' trust in our state government," Demonbreum-Chapman said. "We need HR 158 to restore that trust."

Because the legislation would put the proposal on the statewide Nov. 6 general election ballot, it needs a two-thirds majority in each chamber to pass the Georgia General Assembly.

It was poised to pass the House in 2017 but supporters couldn't round up the 120 votes needed by Crossover Day, the deadline for bills to get through at least one chamber or be tabled. This is the final year of the two-year session, however, and if it doesn't pass this time it will die.

HR 158 is assigned to the Ways and Means Committee chaired by Powell. From there it would go to the Rules Committee, chaired by Meadows, which schedules legislation for a full floor vote.