Under a bill passed last week, state lawmakers won’t be able to divert hazardous and solid waste trust fund fees to other parts of the budget. The measure caused a last-minute battle between legislators in the waning moments of the legislative session, but backers say Georgians will now be getting what they paid for.
Local officials collect fees for everything from scrap tire management to landfill cleanups, and pass them onto the state.
Todd Edwards is with the Association, County Commissioners of Georgia. He says often state lawmakers use the money for other purposes.
“Since 2004, the vast majority of these fees, particularly for the divert hazardous and solid waste trust funds, have been redirected,” he said. "What that does is, when a fee is not paying for what it's actually supposed to pay for, it becomes a tax."
The bill will end the practice for two fees: the ones for the hazardous and solid waste trust funds. If in a particular budget year, lawmakers only appropriate 50 percent of the fees, for example, for the intended purpose, then the following year the fee will be cut by 50 percent.
Tommy Stalnaker chairs the Houston County Board of Commissioners. He says his county has paid into the hazardous waste trust fund, but didn't see a dime of the money when its landfill needed remediation.
“We did the project ourselves. That didn’t let that stop us," he said in an interview. "We did it with our own dollars. And yet we sent $1.5 million to the state and got nothing in return.”
He said this was a long time coming.
“The way it’s been handled in the past few years is it’s not a fee for a specific purpose. It is a tax," he said. "I am so pleased that the bill passed and the money will now be utilized for its intended purpose.”
Some GOP lawmakers fought against it because they say it will rob them of flexibility they need for the budget.