Amendments on the Georgia Ballot

Amendments on the Georgia Ballot

In Georgia, it is always an especially wise thing to do to pay close attention to the other items on the ballot. Don’t ever be fooled by the wording, but dig into what it really means. If you know anything about state and local government here, you know enough to err on the side of caution. Here are my thoughts on the proposed amendments for this go-round.

Amendment 1 To Encourage The Preservation Of Georgia’s Forests Through A Conservation Use Property Tax Reduction Program.
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the General Assembly by general law shall encourage the preservation, conservation, and protection of the state’s forests through the special assessment and taxation of certain forest lands and assistance grants to local government?

This is about whether Georgia can give tax breaks to those who own 200+ acres of undeveloped land. To grab the tax benefit, they have to keep the land undeveloped for 15 years. The state agrees to reimburse local governments for any lost tax revenue. My thoughts on this are mixed. I can see problems and advantages.

I’m worried that it’s really specific to the big landowners like Georgia Pacific, who would hold the forest lands in 15-year rotation, take the benefit, then clear the forest anyway. This would pay for them to do it. Note: “Ensures availability of timber to continue to fuel Georgia’s traditional forest industry as well as emerging markets such as bioenergy.”

The Georgia School Boards Association opposes it because they are worried that the Legislature will back off its commitment to help when the state budget is tight.

If it’s a matter of trust, I’d have to vote no. Things are pretty corrupt. But it’s possible that it could protect some land for at least a little while longer. If I had any real feeling that it would be closely monitored, I’d give it a cautious yes.

I’m undecided.

Amendment 2 To Authorize Local School Districts To Use Tax Funds For Community Redevelopment Purposes.
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize community redevelopment and authorize counties, municipalities, and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment purposes and programs?

This is about TADs (or tax allocation districts), which would freeze the amount of property tax revenues collected, and direct revenues generated by rising property values into a fund used to pay for redevelopment projects. First of all, take a look around. This is moot. There is no fund from rising property values.

More importantly, this would permit special property taxes, including school taxes, to fund redevelopment. Translation: Use education money to benefit developers.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Tax Allocation Districts were unconstitutional because they used educational funds for purposes other than education. Exactly right. This amendment would negate that. Boooo!

If developers cannot get market financing, and local governments refuse to issue general revenue bonds, then why should educational monies be used? Beyond all the obvious arguments, it seems to be that an inability to get funding for profit-development probably signals a problem with the project.

This is a no-brainer for me. No thank you. The PTA provides a big chunk of support for the school my son attends, and developers are already in a very privileged position in Georgia. I also don’t like the idea – in times like these – of government borrowings that depend on future property tax growth from an area under any kind of risky redevelopment.

Some have said that it’s the only way to get funding for things like the Atlanta Beltline project and some kind of reasonable public transit system. Bah! As far as I can tell, they just stole the I-400 toll money to build Atlantic Station, and the Olympics gave us numerous examples of where this kind of thing can go. Living here has made me very suspicious of developers. Now they want to involve school districts?

I vote no. No. NO.

Amendment 3 To Authorize The Creation Of Special Infrastructure Development Districts Providing Infrastructure To Underserved Areas.
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by general law for the creation and comprehensive regulation of infrastructure development districts for the provision of infrastructure as authorized by local governments?

“Infrastructure Development Districts” – IDDs are described as a “new economic tool,” and it sounds like it comes from the same people who dreamed up “tax allocation districts.” This alone is enough to make one pause. What you can’t tell from this wording is that what it’s all about is allowing local governments to to use bonds and private companies to pay for the construction and maintenance of new roads, sewers, schools or other infrastructure through bonds and private companies.

This would also allow developers to charge residents a fee/tax to pay for their infrastructure costs (sewers, bridges, water lines, roads). There is no real government oversight provision here, although there is a residential tax. My own feeling is that developers should pay for those things themselves if they don’t qualify for county/city/federal funding. They already charge residents enough, and I don’t like the idea of private taxation on top of all the other fees and expenses involved. This ends up being a form of double taxation, and there isn’t really anyone from the private side who can be held accountable to voters.

Although this is touted as a way to get funding for areas of Georgia that find funding challenging, I’ve been watching the development of neighborhoods that become little cities of their own and it hasn’t been a very good trend in terms of their tendency to privatize gain and socialize risk. There is little to no oversight, and I’ve seen some glaring conflict of interest problems. It also encourages what is already a serious problem with sprawl, and grants governmental powers to private entities.

I vote no.

Oh, and if somehow the Sunday alcohol sale issue gets to the ballot, I will vote to allow liquor sales on Sunday. Georgia is one of only three holdout states on this issue.

If you have counter-arguments, let’s hear them before Election Day.

2 thoughts on “Amendments on the Georgia Ballot

  1. In regards to your comments about the first amendment:
    The proposal is just a tax break for property taxes. Forest owners participating under this proposal would still pay property taxes. Because of this, it doesn’t make sense for Georgia Pacific to sit on land. They’re still losing money on it!

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