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Bill would curb Ga. fee use

Special purpose funds couldn't be diverted

Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 7:20 AM
Last updated 6:19 PM
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ATLANTA — Legislation introduced Wednesday would prohibit politicians from tapping special-purpose trust funds for uses other than the stated reason for the fees.

The drop in tax collections since the last recession led the past two governors and legislative budget writers to use as much as $65 million in fees for general-government purposes. That has angered the special-interest groups that originally lobbied for those funds.

Environmental groups pushed for the creation of the solid-waste trust fund and a tire-recovery fund to serve as a source to cover the costs of cleaning up waste sites. Joshua’s Law created another fund, named for a teenager killed in a car crash, that is supposed to pay for driver-education courses for new motorists.

Diverting most of the money going into those programs leaves them underfunded.

Local government officials also object to redirecting those funds because they are required by law to run those programs, using local funds to replace those redirected.

Rep. Jay Powell, a former Camilla mayor, sponsored House Bill 811 to end the practice. It phases out the fees over five years if they are not used for the stated purpose.

The measure has 60 co-sponsors, including House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, the Auburn Republican who oversees the budget process that diverted the fees. In addition to Republicans such as Powell and England, the co-sponsors include the House Democratic leader, Stacey Abrams, of Atlanta.

Todd Edwards, a lobbyist for Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said the bill provides transparency so the public knows when fees are redirected.

Fees used in the general fund are essentially taxes without the legislators having to vote on a tax increase, he said.

“We cannot more highly commend Rep. Powell for understanding that when a fee becomes a tax, either call it a tax or get rid of it,” Edwards said.

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