Saturday, October 11, 2014

Georgia’s Proposed Constitutional Amendments – November 2014

Photo by: Larry Walker II
Savannah City Hall

A Yes-No Proposition

- By: Larry Walker II -

There are two Proposed Constitutional Amendments on Georgia’s ballot this November 4th. They are as follows:

A. To prohibit an increase in the state income tax rate in effect January 1, 2015 (Senate Resolution 415). "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to prohibit the General Assembly from increasing the maximum state income tax rate?"

B. Adding reckless driving penalties or fees to the brain and spinal injury trust fund (House Resolution 1183). "Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional reckless driving penalties or fees to be added to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative services for Georgia citizens who have survived neurotrauma with head or spinal cord injuries?"

Yes on Proposal A

Well, Proposal A is pretty much a no-brainer. Do you want to increase the State’s income tax rate, and thus reduce its, and thereby your, competitiveness? I think not. A Yes vote on Proposal A prevents the General Assembly from calling a special session to raise taxes before the next official session begins on January 1, 2015. Therefore, I’m voting Yes on Proposal A.

No on Proposal B

I will be voting No on Proposal B, although the reasons are a bit more complicated. Increasing fines on those convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, or reckless driving, in order to allocate such additional funds to a Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund sounds like a noble idea, however, I believe this concept is best suited for a public Charity. We don’t really need the current Commission to provide such grants. A public charity will do just fine. Ironically, the Commission already accepts public donations. Who knew?

In exploring this proposal intelligently, two important questions arise. First, what is the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund? And second, why does it need more money?

The Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund was created through a constitutional amendment passed by Georgia voters in November 1998. Who knows what we were thinking back then? It is funded solely through a surcharge on DUI (and reckless driving) fines, to assist Georgians with traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injuries, by awarding grants to help alleviate a portion of the often insurmountable costs of procuring necessary equipment and services to help rebuild lives after a traumatic injury.

Why does the Commission need more money? The Trust Fund has never been lower than it is today, with collections having fallen from a peak of $2,069,640 in FY-2008, to just $1,579,626 in FY-2013. The commission only awarded 242 grants in FY-2013, with a total value of $1,343,136. This amounted to an average of just $5,550 per grantee. The reason Trust Fund collections have dwindled is because the number of DUI convictions is down. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out (Fewer DUI’s = Less Revenue).

Wait a minute! Wasn’t the Trust Fund created to penalize, and thus discourage the number of DUI’s? If so, then it’s working. However, if its real purpose was to establish a government-backed slush fund, then perhaps fines should be increased, and rather dramatically, since any increase would have to be proportional to the declining number of DUI convictions. What this would mean is if the number of DUI’s dropped to 10 on an annual basis, then this lucky 10 would have to pay fines of around $206,964 apiece, in order to reboot the Trust Fund. Did you get that? If not, here are a few more reasons to vote No on Proposal B.

In its FY-2013 Annual Report, the Brain & Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission stated that the estimated lifetime costs of care for a person with a traumatic brain and spinal injury could reach upwards of $4,000,000. Yet, according to the same report, the maximum lifetime cap on awards through the Commission is just $15,000 per applicant, hardly a drop in the bucket.

Further, because the Trust Fund is a payer of last resort, an applicant must have exhausted all other fund sources, such as Medicaid, Medicare, SSI, Private Insurance, Disability Insurance, VA, Victims Compensation Fund, etc…, in order to be eligible. In other words, only a handful of applicants will ever even qualify for this penury.

And then there’s this. Eligibility depends on the cause of injury, which must be one of the following: accidental fall, accidentally struck by or against an object/person, assault, self-inflicted injury, sports/recreation injury, and last but not least – a transportation/motor vehicle accident. So let me get this straight, we are collecting fees from those convicted of DUI and reckless driving (traffic) violations, and giving it to persons injured in non-traffic related accidents. What’s wrong with this picture?

Finally, according to its FY-2013 Annual Report, there were a total of 73,770 statewide traumatic brain and spinal injuries in 2013, yet the Commission was only able to grant awards to 242 persons, averaging $5,550 each. This leads me to conclude that the Trust Fund isn’t of much use to anyone at this point in time.

If you all want to punish those convicted of DUI and reckless driving, by all means, do it. But if you want to use this as an excuse for maintaining a government slush fund, then forget about it. I’m voting No on Proposal B, and if I could, I would vote to completely disband the Brain & Spinal Injury Trust Fund and its Commission. Its mission, although a noble one, can more effectively be carried out by, and should be transferred over to, a public charity. You got that?

12 comments:
  1. Thanks for this post. I currently live out of state and am working on my absentee ballot. I've had a hard time finding information on these amendments.

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    1. You're very welcome! The reason I wrote this was due to the dearth of information out here, especially regarding Proposal B.

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    2. I like your points about this proposal. No need to earmark those penalties for anything. Thanks for the write up!

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  2. I didn't have time to comment on it this time, but I will vote yes on the referendum to allow property owned by the University System of Georgia to remain exempt from taxation. And, if it were on the ballot, I would vote to get rid of the redundant business personal property tax altogether.

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    1. I think the idea of privatizing some of UGA support services makes a lot of sense. The providers and UGA can take advantage of the efficiency of focused vendors - everyone can make and save money. In my initial thoughts, I don't like the idea of passing a tax break to a private company just because they are serving a college. I think they can still make a profit & pay taxes like they do in the rest of their business. Sounds like the good ol boy network in action.

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    2. Since the property being taxed (dorms and parking decks) is really owned by the University System of Georgia and only leased out to private firms who manage it, students are the one's who will get hit with higher fees to cover the tax, not the companies themselves. It doesn't make sense to me for the government to tax government owned property and pass the bill on to students. It's really about increasing or not increasing tuition. As a GSU alumni, I'm for keeping our state education system affordable.

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  3. I am working with the Communication Arts Department at Georgia Southern University to report on the 2014 election with a radio program and a website. I stumbled upon your blog as I am covering the proposed amendments as there is not much information out there and I was wondering if I could get you to give us your opinion about the two proposed amendments. Please know that if you choose to help us your comments may be published online and quotes may be used during our election night broadcast.

    I would really appreciate your input on this matter and if you could answer the questions below it would really add to our election night coverage. Thank you so much for your time.
    _______________________________________________________________

    1.) After reading your blog, I noticed that you were voting yes to proposal A. Why should other voters also vote for this amendment?

    2.) After reading your blog, I noticed that you were voting no to proposal B. Why should other voters be wary of this amendment?

    3.) What is your opinion on the amendment that would allow property owned by the University Systems of Georgia and operated by providers of student housing and other facilities to remain exempt from taxation?

    Once again, if you choose to help us out our team would be extremely grateful. Thank you again for your time. 

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    1. Thanks for your interest.

      1. Well, Proposal A is pretty much a no-brainer. Do you want to increase the State’s income tax rate, and thus reduce its, and thereby your, competitiveness? A Yes vote on Proposal A prevents the General Assembly from calling a special session to raise taxes before the next official session begins on January 1, 2015. There's no reason for a tax increase right now, and there's definitely no reason for anyone to sneak one in while the assembly isn't even in session, therefore I’m voting Yes on Proposal A.

      2. I will be voting No on Proposal B. Increasing fines on those convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, and adding fines from reckless driving, in order to allocate such additional funds to a Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund sounds like a noble idea, however, I believe this concept is best suited for a public Charity. Ironically, the Commission already accepts public donations. The State government has no business running a charitable organization.

      In its FY-2013 Annual Report, the Brain & Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission stated that the estimated lifetime costs of care for a person with a traumatic brain and spinal injury could reach upwards of $4,000,000. Yet, according to the same report, the maximum lifetime cap on awards through the Commission is just $15,000 per applicant, hardly a drop in the bucket.

      Also according to its FY-2013 Annual Report, there were a total of 73,770 statewide traumatic brain and spinal injuries in 2013, yet the Commission was only able to grant awards to 242 persons, averaging $5,550 each, which leads me to conclude that the Trust Fund isn’t of much use to anyone at this point. Adding fines from reckless driving isn't going to improve a flawed concept.

      If you think it's the government's business to operate a charity, which as it stands is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine, then by all means vote yes. But, if you believe, like me, that this is not the function of government, then please join me in voting no.

      3. I will be voting yes on the referendum to allow property owned by the University System of Georgia to remain exempt from taxation. Since the property being taxed (dorms and parking decks) is really owned by the University System of Georgia, and is only being leased out to private firms who manage it, students are the one's who will ultimately be hit with higher fees to cover the tax, not the companies themselves.

      It makes no sense to me for the state government to tax its own property (smart) and then hand the bill to the students. This measure is really about whether or not to increase state tuition and fees. As a GSU alumni, I'm for keeping our state education system affordable. Thus, I will be voting yes on the referendum, and if you really care about our students, so should you.

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    2. Please....VOTE YES for AMENDMENT B. I hope you are never impacted by a traumatic brain injury (or spinal injury). DUI fines have reduced because they are pleading down to Reckless Driving. It does not cost you, unless you receive a dui or reckless driving charge, but is a benefit which provides a Helping Hand to those who need medical or support services that are being reduced even greater by changes in the health care system. There is no public charity that offers the financial help needed by these individuals. The Trust Fund is it. The Trust Fund is a good steward of the money and carefully screen grant applications. Do they wish they could award more? Absolutely but they receive more requests that they have money hence you can only apply up to $15,000 life time. $15,000 may not sound like much, but makes a huge difference in the lives of the individual...and their families, their loved ones. A TBI happens in a split second and changes your life forever, and is permanent. My husband had a TBI, he is not the same man I married, it impacted him in ways you cannot imagine, because the injury was to his brain which you cannot see. The grant award has provided support services that have helped to make him feel a part of society, and our family, to best of his ability due to the damage to his brain. Please...VOTE YES for Amendment B. It helped us, it has helped hundreds and needs to be there for others who need that Helping Hand not offered by any charity, or insurance program.

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    3. Sorry, but I'm still voting no. I don't feel it's the state government's role to run a charity operation, and yes there are public charities, and state and federal disability funds and programs that can fill the need. From your Google+ profile, it appears that you work for the Brain Injury Association of Georgia which is an example of such a public charity. .

      You say it doesn't cost me anything, but when the state takes in revenue and earmarks it to special interest groups, it costs all of us. It costs us when those funds are directed away from the general needs of all citizens. For example, a traffic light where one is needed, a key traffic sign, and more police on the roads, these are things that help keep us all safe and are just a few examples of the opportunities we forego when state and local revenues are earmarked toward special interests. I'll still be voting No.

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  4. Thanks for your information. I agree with your positions on the amendments. However, on the referendum, I'm leaning towards voting against the tax break for UGA providers, as it appears vague and too broad -- thus permitting misuse, it gives an unfair competitive advantage to the State over private providers, and it passes along higher property tax burdens to those who remain outside the break.

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  5. "Georgia voters back amendment capping income tax rate."

    "A second amendment authorizing state lawmakers to impose additional fines for reckless driving that would fund medical treatment and rehabilitation for people with brain and spinal injuries also passed.

    Finally, voters approved a referendum to allow Georgia's public universities to extend their exemption from property taxes to private companies hired to operate campus dorms."

    :: That's okay with me. How about that Senate race though? Woo-hoo!

    Ga. voters back amendment capping income tax rate

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