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?

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