Georgia voters may get a chance to tell legislators what many people believe is already the law: When the state collects a fee or tax for a specific purpose, the money must be used for that purpose.
Currently, levies such as the $1-per-tire replacement fee for the Solid Waste Trust Fund are paid into the general fund treasury. Lawmakers can spend the money on anything when they set the state budget each year.
Other revenue up for grabs include the traffic fine created to fund driver's education for teens under Joshua's Law — named for a Bartow County boy who died when he lost control of his car on a wet road — and extra assessments at landfills, on cellphone bills and against socalled "superspeeders."
"Under the present rules and laws, I can't earmark money for anything," said state Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun. "We've had this fee on tires forever, to get money to help with cleaning up illegal dumps, recycling, whatever. But sometimes we may be spending it just to balance the budget."
Meadows is a co-sponsor of House Resolution 158, authored by Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla. If approved, it would set up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment requiring the revenue from a special fee to be earmarked for its stated purpose.
For Meadows, who has tried in the past to abolish fees that are consistently diverted, the vote would answer a simple question.
"If we haven't spent those dollars for what we said we would, why are we collecting them?" he said.
The measure is under review in the Ways & Means Committee that Powell chairs. From there, it would move to the Rules Committee — chaired by Meadows — which schedules the full House votes.
Resolutions to put a proposal on the ballot need a two-thirds majority to pass in each chamber. Meadows said he's hopeful the House will send it over to the Senate.
"I've got to have 120 votes, but we do a pretty good job of finding out how many votes we have before we put it on the floor," he said. "I haven't heard anybody jumping up and down opposed to it."
March 3 is Crossover Day, the deadline for legislation to pass from one chamber to the other or be deemed dead for the year.
On March 1, supporters of HR 158 will hold a Georgians For Trust Fund Honesty Rally at the state capitol. Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome is one of the organizers of the event, slated to run from noon to 2 p.m. at Liberty Plaza.
CRBI spokesman Joe Cook said that since the Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste trust funds were created in the early 1990s, people have paid $469 million in fees for them, but $193 million has been used for other state operations.
"This is not so much an environmental issue as it is about honesty in government," Cook said.
However, the rally will use the waste funds to good effect, with "We're tire-d of the lies" as its theme and plans to build "The Scrapitol," a replica of the state capitol made from scrap tires. Cook said attendees are encouraged to bring a friend, a sign and a tire to add to the sculpture.
"Our legislators tell us they'll use these fees to fix a problem, then turn around and use the money for something else and those projects don't get fully funded," Cook said. "In private business that would be considered fraud. At the state capitol, it's business as usual."