Georgia has been at the forefront of budget cutting throughout the Great Recession. There is no corner of state government that has not had to take one for the team. Unfortunately, this has also meant that fees paid by taxpayers, offenders and others, that were supposed to go toward a dedicated purpose didn’t make it and were used to prop up other areas of the state budget. The $1 per tire fee that was supposed to be deposited into the Solid Waste Trust Fund didn’t arrive and, over the last decade, $37 million went to other purposes.
We have fees that are supposed to go to indigent defense, law enforcement and prosecutor training, driver education and others. House Bill 811, sponsored by Jay Powell, R-Camilla, would prevent the practice of redirecting fees by state government, sort of.
What the bill would do over a period of five years is offset the fee in proportion to monies that might be redirected. Starting in 2014, state departments and agencies receiving dedicated fees will have to declare what was collected. If less than 50 percent in 2013 -- (95 percent by 2019) -- doesn’t go to the specified purposes of the fee, it will be lowered proportionally or eliminated. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia supports HB 811, as it should. In many cases, when the state redirects money it is county governments that end up picking up the slack.
Our only problem with the bill is its attempt to lessen the impact on the state budget. These fees were justified because they were supposed to address a corresponding need (increased fines, for example, to help pay for indigent defense) but instead has became another income stream. The flow of that stream should stop immediately and the funds collected should go toward the area designated by law to receive the proceeds of those fees.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board