Constitutional Amendments and More on the Nov. 3rd Ballot

Every election I do my own research and write on how I intend to vote, focusing on the down ballot choices, since they often have less coverage and far more importance on our local lives. In this article, I’m going to focus way down ballot, with the State Constitutional Amendments and Referendum questions.

As always, I’m not trying to tell you how to vote, I’m just trying to share what I have found with my research. If you know something that I don’t, I would love to hear about it!

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  1. Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to waive sovereign immunity and allow the people of Georgia to petition the superior court for relief from governmental acts done outside the scope of lawful authority or which violate the laws of this state, the Constitution of Georgia, or the Constitution of the United States? 

My vote: YES

Sovereign immunity is a legal idea that dates back to English Common Law from the 1700’s. It basically says, you can’t sue a government in its own court unless the government specifically gives permission. This amendment would give people in Georgia the ability to go to state courts to seek relief when the state violates its constitution, or the US Constitution, without having to get an act of the legislature for each situation. 

The state legislature has twice tried to pass bills to get this accomplished. The most recent attempt was even unanimous, which is remarkable. Governor’s Deal and Kemp each vetoed the legislature’s bills.

I absolutely believe that if someone is hurt by the state’s actions, the state needs a better defense than “you can’t sue us unless we allow it.” 

  1. Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to dedicate revenues derived from fees or taxes to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were intended?

My vote: YES

Right now, even though certain taxes and fees are supposed to go directly to funds for projects fitting specific purposes, much of those revenues can end up getting diverted into the General Fund. Under this amendment, it would be harder for money from these trust funds to go to unrelated purposes. I think that’s sensible.

Ballot Referendum

  1. Establishes a tax exemption for certain real properties owned by charities.

My vote: YES

Nonprofits don’t have to pay taxes, right? As anyone who has run a charity can tell you, the IRS designation of a 501(c)3 non-profit doesn’t necessarily apply to all of the non-IRS taxes that are out there, including property taxes. There are a handful of conditions that can qualify a nonprofit for exemptions on specific property taxes. This change adds Habitat for Humanity to this list.

Under this change, if the property is “owned exclusively for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes and the charity provides interest-free financing to the individual(s) purchasing the home”, that property won’t be taxed. Other property owned by the nonprofit may be taxed, but the future home won’t be taxed until it sells to the future homeowner.

I don’t buy into the idea that I am hurt by my neighbor having low taxes. We should all want low taxes, for ourselves and for each other. I don’t like it when legislators use complicated rules to carve out special tax benefits in industries where they or their friends are making big bucks. That doesn’t appear to be the case with this amendment.

Special Election

  1. Consideration of a New Homestead Exemption from Fayette County School District Property Taxes.

My vote: Yes

There are two ways that your tax bill increases. One is if your town or city council, county commissioners, and/or board of education raise millage rates. (Each sets a rate for a line item on your bill, independent of the others.) The other is if the county tax assessor decides that your property is worth more than last year.

Because of this formula with two factors, your elected officials can say that they are lowering rates while still taking more money as long as sales are up. Real estate sales being up isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t put more money in the pocket of someone on fixed income who isn’t selling their home.

The effect of this legislation is to cap the amount that the “assessed value” of your property can grow from one year to the next, assuming you aren’t selling or renovating your property, at least when looking at the education line item.

I believe that if taxes are necessary, they should be simple, stable, and low. People need to be able to save and plan for their futures, and help their neighbors. When the economy is unpredictable, it becomes even more important to keep taxes stable and low, particularly for those on fixed income.

I have had complaints about the school board’s spending decisions. (My two cents, if you want your school to have more money and know that it’s being spent well, support your PTA). But even leaving that aside, I support this because a government’s tax intake should never grow faster than the local economy. This is only a first step, but it’s a step in a good direction.