Plan to stop lawmakers from diverting fee money may be all but dead

It looks like lawmakers will continue being able to promise fee and tax money will go for one thing and spend it on another after the author of a measure to stop the practice pulled it for consideration by the state House on Wednesday.

The proposed constitutional amendment, sponsored by state Rep. Andrew Welch, R-McDonough, would have allowed legislators to designate fees and taxes for specific purposes and cut down on a decade-long practice of diverting fees, such as the $1 consumers pay for each tire they replace. That money is supposed to go for tire dump cleanups but often hasn’t.

Because Welch’s measure was a proposed constitutional amendment, it needed the support of two-thirds of House members. The proposal, House Resolution 502, was scheduled for a vote Wednesday, but Welch pulled it.

“We didn’t have the votes today,” Welch said. When asked whether he could round up enough votes to win approval by Monday, the last day for legislation to pass at least one chamber, he shook his head.

Welch said he will continue working to get the votes, but his resolution has powerful opposition.

Among the opponents is House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, a key member of the chamber’s leadership.

Top lawmakers typically don’t like the idea of dedicating fee or fine money because they want the flexibility to use the revenue where they think it’s most needed. England told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he supported the basic premise of Welch’s resolution but feared it wouldn’t give lawmakers the flexibility needed to deal with recessions.

Welch’s amendment would allow lawmakers to divert fee money into other areas if needed, such as teacher salaries, in a recession.

Legislators already make promises about how fee and fine money will be spent. But under current law, the only way to ensure fee and fine money goes where it’s suppose to go is for voters to dedicate the revenue in constitutional amendments.

The AJC reported last fall that governors and lawmakers diverted almost $200 million in money collected from new-tire fees and landfill assessments away from their intended purposes — cleaning up tire dumps and hazardous waste sites. Tens of millions of dollars more have been diverted from traffic fine add-ons that were supposed to go for high school driver education programs.

In doing so, they’ve collected money from Georgians telling them their fees were going for one thing while spending them on another.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia has long backed legislation to end the diversion of fees and taxes, saying the money has not always been available when counties needed it for environmental cleanups.

“It’s understandable that the state has reservations on dedicating these fees, despite passing all these bills with the promise to do so,” said Todd Edwards with the ACCG.

“This approach seemed reasonable, allowing an out,” Edwards said. “Heck, Georgia counties would love the opportunity to vote to redirect our fees which the state mandates we spend in specific ways.”

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