Each year, Georgians pay millions in fees to their state government to support specific program—from environmental cleanups to teen driver education—and each year, legislators loot these funds to pay for unrelated portions of the state budget.
On March 1 at Liberty Plaza adjacent to the state capitol, citizens from across the state will gather for the Georgians For Trust Fund Honesty rally to tell legislators to stop the looting and restore the trust in our state’s trust funds.
The rally from Noon-2 p.m. will feature speakers highlighting the funding shortfalls and promoting HR 158, a resolution introduced by Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) that, if successful, could ultimately lead to ending the annual redirection of funds by legislators.
Included in the rally will be the erection of a replica of the state capitol made from scrap tires.
“”The Scrapitol” will be built from some 500 tires and will serve as a symbol of this ugly practice of looting our trust funds,” said Joe Cook, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator with the Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative. “An ugly practice deserves an ugly replica. In the private sector, if you pay for a service and don’t receive it, that’s fraud, but unfortunately, at the state capitol, it’s just business as usual.”
The state’s scrap tire program, the Solid Waste Trust Fund, is just one of several programs that will be highlighted at the rally. Between 2005 and 2015, Georgia citizens paid $69.7 million in fees when they purchased new tires for their vehicles for the purposes of identifying and cleaning up illegal tire dumps, but of that total, legislators appropriated only $26.4 million for its intended purposes, according to figures obtained from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD).
The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund, generated primarily by add ons to tipping fees at local landfills, produced $160.5 million from 2005-15, but only $63.7 million has been used to cleanup hazardous waste sites as was intended when legislators established the fund in the early 1990s, EPD documents show.
The problem doesn’t end with the state’s environmental funds. Joshua’s Law, the teen driving education law adopted in 2005, has generated from $3-10 million annually in state revenue from additional fines assessed for traffic violations, but since its inception, only $8 million has been used for teen driver education programs, according to the Georgia Drivers Education Commission documents.
The Peace Officers and Prosecutor’s Training Fund has also been an annual target of legislators. This fund, generated through a fee added to criminal and traffic violation fines, collects about $27 million annually, but little makes its way into local coffers for training the state’s more than 24,000 local law enforcement officers. The vast majority of the funds are used for training some 1600 state patrol and Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers.
A 2012 white paper produced by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police reported that between 1987 and 2009, some $71 million was taken from the training fund to pay for other portions of the state budget.
These funding shortfalls arise because state law does not allow legislators to “dedicate” fees for specific purposes. They can adopt laws establishing fees for specific programs, but the collections go to the state’s general fund and it’s left to each year’s budget writers to appropriate the funds for their intended purposes.
Rep. Powell’s HR 158 aims to end this practice. The resolution creates a constitutional amendment to be placed on the 2018 state ballot asking voters to provide legislators with the authority to “dedicate” fees, thus ensuring that fee collections will be used for their intended purposes. The resolution could be up for a vote before the full House this week.