In addition to casting votes for governor and U.S. senator, toward the end of their ballots, Georgia voters will also be asked to make decisions in November on three statewide issues involving taxes and fees.
Early voters will get a first look at the three measures — two constitutional amendments and a statewide referendum — Monday. They ask voters to:
- cap the state's income tax at a top rate of 6 percent.
- add additional fees to reckless driving convictions to benefit the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund to pay for care and rehabilitation services for Georgia residents who have survived these types of injuries.
- extend a property tax exemption to private companies when they take over operations of dorms and parking areas at Georgia's public colleges and universities.
The proposed income tax amendment would prevent an increase on the top rate beyond 6 percent without passage of another constitutional amendment.
Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the proposed amendment would spur job growth in the state. But opponents say the cap is unnecessary.
“There is little appetite for raising the income tax rate now,” said Wesley Tharpe, a policy analyst with the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “We feel it ties the hands of the state in the future.”
Because there has been no real push in recent years to exceed the top rate of 6 percent, the proposed amendment has little consequence to voters, said David Shock, the assistant chairman of the political science department at Kennesaw State University.
“The effect is if there is a need for more revenue, the revenue increase will have to come from a source other than the state income tax, like a higher state sales tax or higher fees,” he said. “If you’re looking at people based on income levels, experts say (income tax) is the fairer tax because it’s based on pay. If you raised money from sales, property taxes or fees, you don’t really consider an ability to pay, so low-income people will pay a higher percentage of their income.”
The lone statewide referendum on the ballot would pass on a property tax exemption to private companies that operate dorms and parking facilities on college campuses within the University System of Georgia. The state Board of Regents is looking to follow the trend of colleges in other states such as Kentucky and Texas that have gotten out of the residential housing business by privatizing their dorms.
The tax exemption would be a major incentive for developers, who could help the University System pay off almost $4 billion in debt through the privatization plan. Under that plan, the University System would still own the buildings and land, and the private companies would operate the dorms and collect rents under leases that could extend up to 65 years.
The least-known of the ballot measures is a proposed constitutional amendment that would add a fee to reckless driving convictions that would go to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission. The trust fund provides grants to injured Georgians for supplies and services such as wheelchairs and physical therapy after all other sources, including private insurance and federal benefits, have been exhausted.
A surcharge is already added to convictions for driving under the influence, but a drop in the number of DUI convictions has led to a gap in injury funding, said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, who sponsored the bill during the most recent legislative session.
People have been pleading down their DUI offense to reckless driving, so that revenue that would have benefited the trust fund is lost, said Tanner, R-Dawsonville. “So instead of trying to fund the trust fund from tax dollars, we asked voters to expand the surcharge to include reckless driving.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution