Residents from across the state held a rally across from the Georgia Capitol, using scrap tires to build a replica of the statehouse in Liberty Plaza that they dubbed the “Scrapitol.” They were advocating for legislation forcing the state to stop raiding trust funds for things such as tire dump and hazardous waste cleanups and driver’s education programs. Lawmakers are considering a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to safeguard such fee-funded programs. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Tired of misappropriation, Georgia activists seek honest use of funds

It’s a simple idea, but Joe Cook spent nearly three hours with about 500 tires to emphasize his point.

“If you charge us $1 for every tire we purchase to help clean up illegal tire dumps in our communities, those collections should be used for just that,” said Cook, an advocacy and community coordinator for the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

Supporters of an effort to hold state lawmakers to their promise of spending the money the state raises from fees exactly where promised took a literal stance Wednesday using scrap tires from a facility in Rome to build a replica of the state Capitol.

Many rivers across the state have become waste sites for tire dumps. The $1-per-tire fee the state adds for any new tire purchase is supposed to provide financial resources to clean and remove dirty waterways, but the $50 million collected from the fees since 2003 is channeled into the state’s general fund, allowing governors and lawmakers to withdraw money when needed for other, usually unrelated, projects.

The rally attracted a small but passionate group, including Alan Brown, who advocated for the teen driver safety statute “Joshua’s Law” in recognition of his son’s death.

In addition to tire cleanup, the state has created programs to train police and educate teen drivers. But, like the tire dump project, they have been drained by lawmakers for other purposes. It’s a roundabout way to balance the budget — avoiding levying extra taxes or cutting spending — but it has angered environmental groups, educators and Georgians.

In response, lawmakers have introduced methods over the years to hold funds to account. This year, House Ways and Means Chairman Jay Powell introduced House Resolution 158, which would dedicate fees to specific funds and causes for up to 10 years, at which point they would come up for renewal.

If adopted by the House and Senate, the measure would be placed before voters as a constitutional amendment in 2018.

“We’re not asking them to do anything unlawful, immoral, unethical,” Brown said. “All we’re saying is do what you said you were going to do.”

Passed in 2005, “Joshua’s Law” funds driver education programs in Georgia schools through fees on traffic fines. There are at least 140 programs in the state, but “had they funded the money where it was supposed to go,” Brown said, there could have already been programs in every Georgia high school and prevented teen deaths.

“If you guys will scream, they’ll listen,” Brown told a group of high school students without such a program.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority of in each legislative house before being sent to voters for final approval.

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