On the Georgia Ballot: Funding more parks without raising taxes

    Georgia's state legislature is proposing a constitutional amendment, that would fund parks, paths and purchasing green spaces, but lawmakers say they won't need to raise taxes to do it/Matt Mackie (WGXA)

    MACON, Ga. -- Changes to Georgia's state constitution - and more funding to parks near you - could be coming this November.

    It'll show up on your ballot as "Proposed Constitutional Amendment One." It aims to create an "outdoor stewardship trust fund" that will reportedly take sales tax from sporting goods stores to support state and local parks and trails, and to acquire and protect conservation land.

    The wording of the amendment is clear - Georgians wouldn't pay more at the store to create this fund, since it all comes from existing sales taxes.

    So would that money, starting at an estimated $20 million per year, be missed elsewhere?

    We reached out to Thomas Farmer, Director of Government Relations with the Nature Conservancy in Georgia and manager of the campaign to get the amendment enacted. He says this won't hurt the state's general fund.

    "Our state tax revenue is up over last year, so there's nothing currently that will be impacted. This bill has a pressure release valve if you will. So if the economy does turn southward and we find ourselves in more difficult times from an economic standpoint, the money from this fund will go back into the general fund," said Farmer.

    Georgia state legislators were overwhelmingly in favor of the measure when it came to a vote.

    The bill that lays the framework for the trust fund should the amendment be enacted had broad bipartisan support. The six state representatives who sponsored the bill include five Republicans and one Democrat.

    When it came to final votes on both the House and Senate floors in March, 215 legislators voted in favor, 20 did not vote or were excluded and only one voted against.

    WGXA reached out to that lone nay vote – Republican State Representative Matt Gurtler, who represents portions of Rabun, Towns, Union, and White counties in north Georgia.

    In an email, Gurtler stressed the importance of protecting Georgia's environment and funding agencies like the Department of Natural Resources. He argued, however, that a new constitutional amendment was not the right way to achieve those goals.

    "Carving out these types of funds by creating a trust fund controlled by bureaucrats may have unintended consequences," he wrote. "One unavoidable consequence would be all the money wasted on new required government positions and bureaucracy costs. In short, this is not a limited government or conservative way to do appropriations."

    Votes at the State House in Atlanta only got this amendment on the ballot. It won't go into effect unless Georgia votes in favor come November.

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