Chairman's Corner: About those Constitutional Amendments

Monday, October 12, 2020 7:20 AM | Anonymous


I know Democrat House candidate Caroline Holko was hoping I would focus on her this newsletter, but today is the first day of Early Voting and I wanted to focus this column on something more important, the Amendments and referendums on the ballot this year. I have received numerous questions on the Constitutional Amendments that are on the ballot this year. Here is an explanation for what each would do:

Georgia Amendment 1:

Authorizes dedication of fees and taxes to their intended purposes by general state law

"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to dedicate revenues derived from fees or taxes to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were intended?"

Sometimes when the Georgia General Assembly creates a new tax or fee, they will dedicate all or part of that tax or fee to a dedicated purpose, like a portion of the tobacco tax going to fund programs to prevent youth tobacco use. There is a small problem, the Georgia Constitution does not require that fee or tax to actually go to that purpose. Instead, the funds go into the general fund and can be budgeted for any purpose.

If passed, the state's constitution would be changed to limit funds that are dedicated to those statute-specific projects.

In addition, the agency responsible for those funds would have to provide an annual report on the funds involved. 

The tax or fee which generates those funds would also have to expire within ten years but could be renewed if the General Assembly wants to renew it.

Once the dedicated fee or tax is passed and enacted, the legislature would not be permitted to re-allocate revenues from those funds to the state's general fund unless the governor suspends the fund to which they are dedicated for, which could happen in the case of a budget shortfall due to an economic downturn or other financial emergency.

The Amendment defines a financial emergency as when total state revenue in the most recent fiscal year is 3% or more below revenue estimates or when the state has three consecutive months of declining revenues.

Georgia Amendment 2:

Waives state and local sovereign immunity for violation of state laws, state and federal constitutions.

"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to waive sovereign immunity and allow the people of Georgia to petition the superior court for relief from governmental acts done outside the scope of lawful authority or which violate the laws of this state, the Constitution of Georgia, or the Constitution of the United States?"

The best explanation comes from Rep. Andy Welch, the amendment’s author, who posted his reasoning behind the amendment on Facebook:

“So, what is sovereign immunity? It is an age-old legal doctrine that says the King can do no wrong and thus cannot be sued unless the King consents. Our Georgia Supreme Court has correctly said that our State Constitution includes the protection of sovereign immunity. As a result, citizens cannot petition Georgia courts to declare a governmental action unlawful and issue an injunction to stop the government from continuing the unlawful action. But what does that mean?

Let’s say that the State passes a statute that says Georgians may have only one political sign in their yards, or a local building director refuses to issue building permits for any new churches in your area; or a state or local official begins issuing land disturbance permits in environmentally protected areas, or a local government passes an ordinance that prohibits the licensed carry of firearms. Without the amendment, you may not sue the State of Georgia or your local government in Georgia courts to stop such action. (The only way you could get justice is to sue in Federal Court or sue the elected officials or the public employees personally which may be very difficult, costly and prolonged.)

If you think the doors of Georgia Courts should be open to allow her citizens to sue and protect their statutory and constitutional rights against government intrusion, then you should vote for this amendment. If you think our state judiciary should serve as a check on legislative and executive actions of the State and local governments, then you should vote for this amendment.

While the amendment allows Georgians to sue to STOP unlawful governmental action, it does NOT grant monetary judgments, court costs, or attorneys’ fees. This amendment will allow suits to be filed against the government itself as opposed to suing individual members serving or working for these governments. (It is already hard enough to get good people to serve in public office or public employment; they shouldn’t have to worry about being sued personally.) The amendment will apply to actions taking place on or after Jan. 1, 2021.”

- State Rep. Andy Welch, Amendment Author

Georgia Referendum A:

Establishes a tax exemption for certain real property owned by charities.

"Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes for all real property owned by a purely public charity, if such charity is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code and such real property is held exclusively for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes to be financed by such charity to individuals using loans that shall not bear interest?"

This referendum will provide an exemption from property taxes for property owned by a public charity that is already exempt from federal taxes under Section 501(c)(3) -- such as Habitat for Humanity -- if the property in question is owned specifically for the purpose of building or rehabilitating single-family homes.

Currently, charities like Habitat have to pay property taxes even before transferring the home to the new homeowner. The Amendment would exempt charities like Habitat and the collection of property taxes would only begin when the home is transferred to the new owner.

In addition, the charity would have to provide interest-free financing to those purchasing the home.

Cobb's 2022 SPLOST Renewal

Also on the ballot in Cobb County is the renewal of the current Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). The current penny tax is set to expire in 2022 and voters are being asked to renew it until 2028.

The list of projects the SPLOST is dedicated for can be found on the County Government's website.

If this passes, we will not see a change in our current 6% sales tax, but if it fails, we will see our sales tax decrease by $0.01 to 5%. Likely, the Cobb County Commission will seek other ways, like increasing property taxes, to make-up for the funds that had come in via the sales tax.

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