If you are not one of the tens of thousands of Georgia residents who have voted early in the Nov. 6 election, be forewarned – you won’t be voting just for candidates.
There are five proposed state amendments that are on the ballot and a few referendums depending upon what city and county you live in. Example: in the north Fulton County city of Johns Creek, voters will decide on whether or not to have Sunday liquor sales.
To find out in advance, search for a sample ballot through your county’s voters registration office.
For space purposes, The Atlanta Voice has focused on amendments and referendums affecting Fulton County. Below is a look at each one and what it means.
Amendment 1- Land Conservation, parks
Proposes to take a portion of the sales taxes that is received from the purchase of outdoor goods to be used to maintain the state’s parks and to buy deemed public lands. The measure would set aside 80 percent of the tax which is expected to raise at $200 million over the next 10 years.
The state would be required to spend at least $20 million up to $40 million a year for the next ten years on land conservation and offer matching grants to cities in the metro Atlanta area to build parks and nature trails.
The measure would sunset after ten years. Both Houses of the state’s legislature overwhelming approved the measure. It reads on the ballot as:
Creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and parks. House Resolution No. 238 Resolution Act No. 414 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1138 “Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?”
Amendment 2 – Business Courts
The Republicans like this idea. The Democrats don’t like the idea but don’t like how the judges will be selected. Ideally, this measure will relieve some of the workloads of the courts and give business owners faster court decisions.
The Democrats don’t like that these new judges will be appointed by the governor (not the voters) to five-year terms with the approval by the Judiciary committees of the House and Senate.
Under current law, Georgia’s State and Superior Courts have already established business courts with two operating in Fulton and Gwinnett County.
Creates a state-wide business court to lower costs, enhance efficiency, and promote predictable judicial outcomes. House Resolution No. 993, Resolution Act No. 410 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1130 “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for statewide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?”
Amendment 3 – Timber Tax
Does this update of the 2008 Forest Protection Act mean that large landowners will now have to pay more taxes? Don’t be silly. When has big business every supported a measure where they would pay more taxes?
This measure would give owners of 200-plus acres of timberland would reduce to 10 years from 15 years their restrictive covenant on their property. During this time those lands have been assessed as forestlands and not at the current market value.
This methodology helped some counties and hurt others. Counties are hoping the new measure will bring them more revenue.
Encourages the conservation, sustainability, and longevity of Georgia’s working forests through tax subclassification and grants. House Resolution No. 51 Resolution Act No. 297 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1127 “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?”
Amendment 4 – Victim Rights
If there is one amendment that has garnered more attention than any other this election is the victim’s right amendment known as Marsi’s Law.
This amendment has been backed by a well-organized national financial campaign that has drawn the support of actor/producer Kelsey Grammar who lost two family members to violent crime. Several other states have similar bills.
One of the main components of the bill would give victims the right to know when their perpetrator is released when prison. It unanimously passed in the legislature.
Provides rights for victims of crime in the judicial process. Senate Resolution No. 146 Resolution Act No. 467 Ga. L. 2018, p. 1139 “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?”
Amendment 5 – Local Option Sales Tax
This would remove the requirement that a city school district and a county school district that lie within a county must agree before a referendum for new taxes could be called.
As in Fulton County, Atlanta and Fulton County school districts must agree before that measure can be put on a ballot. The tax would be imposed for no more than 5 years.
Authorizes fair allocation of sales tax proceeds to county and city school districts. Senate Resolution No. 95. Resolution Act No. 278 Ga. L. 2017, p. 857 “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per-student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?”
The measure will be on every ballot, but it mainly applies to Atlanta. With the full support of the legislature, this measure would cap Atlanta’s annual property taxes at a maximum of 2.5 percent a year. It would allow a homestead exemption to those owners who have properties that lie in multiple jurisdictions.
Provides for a homestead exemption for residents of certain municipal corporations. House Bill No. 820 Act No. 346 Ga. L. 2018, p. 235 “Do you approve a new homestead exemption in a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6 percent?”
This gives nonprofit homes for people who have mental disabilities a tax break. The question is should for-profit businesses that finance the construction or renovation of such home would get a tax break.