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Sunday, January 29, 2012 - 8:14pm

Bill Would Earmark Fees

A proposed bill would prevent the state from redirecting fees collected for specific purposes to other budget areas. Lawmakers have drafted similar bills before. But this measure wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment, so it’s likelier to pass.

In 2010, Georgians paid $6.3 million in scrap tire management fees. The $1 fee paid on every new tire is meant to defray the cost of landfill cleanups.

But lawmakers didn’t use any of it for landfill cleanups that year. Instead, they redirected the fees to other budget needs as state revenues declined. That's because the state of Georgia often collects fees but uses them for a different purpose. And it's not required by law to only use a fee for the stated collection purpose.

Under a bill proposed by Rep. Jay Powell, that practice would end.

The bill has broad bi-partisan support, with signatures from 60 lawmakers in both parties. And Powell, a Hartwell Republican, says it should appeal to Georgians, too.

“This is a trust and honesty issue," he said in an interview on Friday. "We’ve represented to the voters that the fee they are paying for tires or for hazardous waste or whatever it is, is going to that purpose and that has not been the case.”

Todd Edwards with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia says it takes a less restrictive approach than past bills.

“It wouldn’t bind the legislators to put it in a fund that they couldn’t reach for other purposes. In fact, it doesn’t bind them in any way at all," Edwards says. "It simply dictates that if you’re not spending the fees as they’re supposed to be spent, then the fees will be reduced proportionally from that point going forward.”

Under the bill, the state would be bound to collect only half of the tire fee, for example, if the year before it only appropriated $3 million toward, rather than the $6 million it typically collects.

The bill would affect the tire fee and four other fees. If it passes, legislators could add other fees later.