October 22, 2014
Georgia voters will make decisions on three issues when they vote in this General Election. Two decisions involve amending the state constitution and one is a referendum question.
To be put on the General Election Ballot, both constitutional amendments and referendum questions require a 2/3 approval vote by each body of the legislature. They do not become effective unless a majority of the electorate voting in the general election approve. So, questions must carry wide support to even be placed on the ballot.
Constitutional Amendment “A”
The first amendment would place a ceiling on state income taxes at the present 6 percent level. That rate has been the top rate since the 7 percent bracket was removed back in 1955. So 6 percent is the top rate today but could be changed by a majority vote of the legislature. If passed, only a constitutional amendment (requiring 2/3 Legislative vote and ballot approval) could be used to raise the state income tax higher than 6 percent. If the legislature decided to lower the rate under 6 percent, only a majority vote of the two bodies would be required. The effective date of this amendment, if approved, is Jan. 1, 2015.
Constitutional Amendment “B”
The Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund awards Georgians with traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injuries for equipment and services that help insure independence and recovery including such equipment as wheelchairs, bathroom modifications, and hand controls for automobiles, speech therapy and hospital beds. No tax dollars are appropriated for this fund but services are provided strictly from a DUI fine add-on. Since 2003, the Commission has awarded over $20 million dollars to some 4,800 individuals not including awards to state agencies and camps for Georgians with these injuries. There has been a drop in DUI fine collections since 2008 from $2.06 million on 41,518 convictions to $1.57 million on 29,634 convictions in 2013. Consequently, a lifetime award cap of $15,000 is now in place. Needs for an individual with these injuries can often exceed $1 million.
What Amendment “B” does is to add, per HR 1183, a 10 percent fine add-on to fines for traffic offenses that include “Reckless Driving.” The enabling legislation was included in HB 870. These funds would go directly to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund.
Statewide Referendum 1
While there may be local referendum questions on ballots like Sunday Alcohol Sales, the only statewide referendum question also involves student housing on college campuses. Incidentally, statewide referendum questions require a 2/3 vote of the Legislature to be placed on the ballot, just as constitutional amendments do. What this referendum question does is to allow the Board of Regents to authorize the lease of housing on campuses to private entities and for these projects to continue an ad valorem exemption that foundation funded projects now enjoy. Colleges and universities would continue to own these housing facilities but the buildings would be privately managed. This arrangement could be used for new housing projects or allow for the lease of existing housing to private entities with the present ad valorem exemption intact.
For more info on these amendments, go to http://sos.ga.gov/admin/uploads/Summaries of Proposed Constitutional Amendments.pdf
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