Voters will decide in November if fees taken by the state for specific purposes should actually go to that intended purpose.
The proposed constitutional amendment passed by the state Senate will allow voters to choose whether or not the revenue should be only put to its stated use — such as into Georgia’s Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds — instead of into the state’s general fund.
“There were some fees imposed in the 1990s that have not been used for their dedicated purpose,” Sen. Chuck Hufstetler said in a presentation to his chamber Monday.
Along with the bill, there are a few caveats.
In the case of an economic downturn the governor and General Assembly would have the authority to temporarily suspend the dedication of funds. Under the constitutional amendment, dedicated funds could not exceed 1% of total state revenues from the previous year.
Locally, environmental activists applauded the measure, which has already cleared the House.
“HR 164’s passage represents an important step toward cleaning up Georgia,” Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, the executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative said.
“These funds ... were created to pay for the cleanup of illegal tire dumps and abandoned hazardous waste sites. If voters approve this amendment in November, we will finally have the ability to protect these funds and start cleaning up blight properties across the state,” he said.
More than 75% of the abandoned sites awaiting cleanup on the state’s hazardous site inventory have been on the list for more than 20 years, Demonbreun-Chapman said.
“This fix will help close a glaring loophole and finally put the trust back in environmental trust funds,” he said.
Committing dedicated state money to its intended use was a longstanding priority of the late state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died unexpectedly last November.
As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and later the Rules Committee, Powell opposed the legislative practice of diverting those monies into the state’s general fund budget absent a financial emergency.
Although the Senate at one point in this year’s session favored limiting the legislation to the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds, senators on Monday agreed to a House proposal applying the constitutional amendment to all dedicated revenues derived from state fees or taxes.
“We are incredibly grateful for the guidance and leadership provided by the late Chairman Jay Powell over the years on this issue. As for the Senate, this important legislation could not have crossed the finish line without the help of our very own Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan,” Demonbreun-Chapman said.
As a constitutional amendment, the legislation does not go to the governor to be signed into law. Its passage Monday guarantees its placement on the general election ballot Nov. 3.