State lawmakers are pushing for Georgia voters to pass a ballot measure that would in set in stone how certain taxpayer dollars can be used for dedicated funds like cleaning up tire dumps.
Georgians will decide in the November election whether to approve a constitutional amendment that requires state funds reserved for specific purposes to be spent on those purposes, rather than funnel back into the all-purpose general fund.
The amendment’s approval would be a boon for Georgia environmentalists and local government officials who have watched large chunks of state funding meant to clean up discarded tires and remediate landfills steer away from those uses in recent uses and redirect into the general fund.
“Passage [of the bill] is going to be the answer to a conundrum that has been around for decades,” said Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City.
“Georgia law has never allowed for the dedication of funds to be collected by the state and to be used by the state agencies without a constitutional amendment. So therefore, it was left up to the goodwill of the General Assembly to try to make it happen.”
The amendment proposal, sponsored by the late Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, would automatically require dedicated funds to be used for specific purposes without need for the General Assembly to pass additional legislation defining that purposes, as has been the practice in recent years.
State lawmakers aired their thoughts on the proposal in a meeting Wednesday of the Georgia Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee.
Several environment advocates and local government leaders highlighted how dollars have been pulled from a solid-waste trust fund meant to clean up tire dumps and other blight, and instead put toward broader uses as Georgia struggled to rebound from the economic recession more than a decade ago.
Roughly 40% of the $366 million raised for the dedicated fund since its creation in 1990 has not actually gone into the fund, said Fairburn City Councilwoman Hattie Portis-Jones.
“What we’d like to see is every dollar collected be used for its intended purpose,” Portis-Jones said at Wednesday’s meeting.
There would still be some caveats for spending funds if the amendment passes. Dedicated funds could not exceed 1% of total state revenues from the previous year. And in a financial emergency, the governor and legislature would have the authority to temporarily suspend the dedication of funds.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed the trust-fund ballot measure after the lawmakers passed it in March. It requires final voter approval in the Nov. 3 general election before taking effect.