(The Center Square) – Two amendments to the Georgia Constitution and a statewide referendum are on the ballot for voters to decide this fall.
Voters will decide whether they can sue the government for violating the law, whether the state should use public funds as they are intended and whether to grant tax exemptions for certain homes.
Amendment 1 would require transparency in government spending. The proposal, approved by the General Assembly in March, calls for the Georgia Legislature to ensure the money collected from taxes and fees is spent as it is intended.
If approved, lawmakers, during bill drafting, must identify the purpose of the funds, name the agency that would administer the funds and require the agency to maintain annual reports tracking the revenue and spending. Lawmakers also would have to set the fees and taxes to expire within 10 years automatically. The amendment would put a cap on when lawmakers can allocate funds.
"It prohibits the General Assembly from designating funds when total revenues so dedicated equal or exceed 1% of the total state revenues based on the previous fiscal year's appropriated state revenues," a summary prepared by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Attorney General Chris Carr reads.
An environmental coalition of more than 270 state organizations, the Georgia Water Coalition, has launched a campaign supporting the amendment. Activists said the state has diverted money from the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund and Solid Waste Trust Fund, which are meant to clean hazardous waste sites and landfills.
Georgians pay a $1 fee for every new tire purchased and a 75 cents tipping fee at local landfills to finance the funds. When access to the two funds is limited, local governments that own or operate the sites have to bear the financial burden. Governments may need to raise taxes to fund other programs, and the tire dumps and hazardous waste continue to be a health issue for residents, the Georgia Water Coalition said.
If the amendment passes, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) said it plans to push lawmakers to pass legislation to dedicate hazardous and solid waste trust funds fees appropriately.
“For the past 10 years, over 60% of these fees have been redirected to the state’s General Fund to be spent on other purposes,” said Kathleen Bowen, ACCG associate legislative director.
A "yes" vote on Amendment 2 would allow Georgians, in certain instances, to petition for a waiver of sovereign immunity, the concept the government legally cannot be wrong. A Georgia Supreme Court ruling in 2017 barred the public from challenging the state's government. The court ruled Georgia's public officials were protected under sovereign immunity. The court left the approval up to the General Assembly.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed off on the General Assembly's decision to place the amendment on the ballot in August.
A change to the state's constitution would allow a superior court judge to determine whether laws proposed by state and local governments are constitutional. However, it does not allow Georgians to seek damages or recover any legal fees in the lawsuit. The change would apply to any violations that take place after Jan. 1, 2021.
If the statewide ballot referendum is approved, nonprofits that already are exempt from federal taxes no longer would be required to pay state taxes when building or repairing single-family homes. The homes must be used by the organization or sold using zero-interest loans. If most voters say "yes," the change would take effect Jan. 1, 2021.