For several years, it’s been an irritation to environmentalists that most of Georgia’s $1 tire recycling fee hasn’t actually gone to recycle tires or to clean up solid waste.
And counties want the court filing fees that are earmarked for indigent criminal defense to all go there so they’re not stuck with the bill.
Those are just two of several fees that the state Legislature regularly raids for general spending instead of sending the money where the law says.
But under a new bill just filed at the Capitol, either those fees will go to the right place or they will shrink or disappear.
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The state budget has been tight the last few years, said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, but “we cannot continue to use these fees for other purposes. We should either appropriate the fees as promised, reduce the fee to what is being appropriated or get rid of the fee altogether.”
The bill proposes a proportionate cut: For example, the tire recycling fee would fall to 50 cents next year if the Legislature spends only half of it on tire recycling this year.
More than 60 state representatives signed onto House Bill 811 even before it was published.
State law theoretically protects such fees from raiding, but in practice, only the state Constitution is strong enough to keep the Legislature’s hands off designated funds. A portion of the state gas tax, for example, is funneled toward road building and maintenance, and the Legislature cannot use it for anything else.
Borrowing may increase for small colleges, universities
Fort Valley State University built its new student center by borrowing through a state program used by small schools that’s in such high demand it’s nearly tapped out after just three years.
The state Legislature is moving toward raising the program’s $300 million cap on borrowing.
The Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority would get its cap increased from $300 million to $500 million under a bill just approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
GHEFA lends only against revenue-generating projects such as dorms, student centers, dining halls or parking decks, explained bill sponsor state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon. In just three years, it’s funded 18 programs on 13 campuses.
The fund is open to any state university or technical college, but the biggest schools generally borrow on their own accounts.
During debate, some senators suggested that GHEFA funds the kind of projects that are “wants” rather than “needs” and that many students get in debt for the school fees that eventually repay the borrowing.
But Senate Bill 140 passed with only one dissenting vote. It now moves to the Rules Committee.
-- Compiled by Maggie Lee