Georgia’s fees are just taxes in disguise

January 29, 2014 

There’s a dirty secret that’s not so secret anymore. The fees Georgia residents pay, such as the hazardous and solid waste fees, civil penalty fees, hazardous substance fees and brownfield fees that have accounted for, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, more than $165 million since 2004 (2013 and 2014 totals are estimates) are not directed to their stated purposes. Of that total, the areas where the money is supposed to go -- the Hazardous and Solid Waste Trust Funds, the Emergency 911 Assistance Fund, Peace Officer and Prosecutors Training Fund, Indigent Defense program, Driver’s Ed Training and Judicial Operations Fund Fee -- have only received $63 million. What happened to the other $102 million? It went straight to the state’s general fund.

The state charges a $1 per tire scrap tire management fee and since 2004 it has brought in almost $70 million, yet only $24 million has been allocated to address the landfill issues it was supposed to help fix. People pay a 75-cent-per-ton tipping at landfills, a $125 fee added to every civil filing, a 5 percent add-on to traffic fines and a host of other charges that are supposed to go to pay various costs related to the criminal justice system. Every mobile phone customer pays $1.50 a month or more to help fund 911 centers around the state, but from 2007 to 2011, the tax, oh excuse us, fee, collected more than $36 million. Where has that money gone? Not to 911 centers.

There have been various legislative efforts to compel the state to use the money raised from the fees for their intended purposes. In 2012, Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, introduced HB 811. The bill would have reduced the amount of the fee if the state didn’t appropriate the money for the fee’s intended purpose. The Senate Appropriations Committee put the kibosh on that effort when it substituted legislation that would have required a state surplus of $1 billion before appropriating the fees in such manner. This session, the bill has resurfaced as HB 127. Now comes Andrew Welch, R-McDonough, with HB 1087, a constitutional amendment that would, if approved by voters, give the General Assembly the right to direct the fees to their intended purposes. The Solid Waste Trust Fund is set to expire in July 2015, so something will have to be done. If the money isn’t going to be used for what it was designated to do, it’s best for it to go away and make lawmakers tell us the truth instead of hiding behind false advertising.

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