While most voters are familiar with the candidates on the Nov. 4 general-election ballot, many are unaware of the ballot’s three referendum questions.
Two of the questions are constitutional amendments, meaning, if approved by the majority of voters, our state’s constitution will be amended to include these changes.
The other question is a statewide referendum involving a tax exemption that requires approval from a majority of voters in order to be implemented.
Here’s a look at the questions and a brief explanation of each.
Proposed constitutional amendments
- A - (Senate resolution No. 415, act No. 592)
To prohibit an increase in the state income tax rate in effect Jan. 1, 2015:
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to prohibit the General Assembly from increasing the maximum state income tax rate?”
Currently, the top income tax rate in our state is 6 percent. Although we don’t always set the rate at this level, 6 percent is the highest we currently can set it at. If passed, this would amend our constitution, capping the top income-tax rate at 6 percent.
Although somewhat symbolic, capping the rate at this level would improve Georgia’s competiveness while bringing certainty to businesses contemplating expansion decisions in our state.
While Georgia’s total tax liabilities (income taxes, corporate taxes and sales taxes) are competitive, we have one of the highest income-tax liabilities of any of our Southeastern neighbors. In fact, our 6 percent rate is the highest in the Southeast when compared to the 5.8 percent in North Carolina and 5 percent in Alabama. Tennessee only taxes dividend and interest income, and Florida has no state income tax.
By passing this amendment, Georgia would become the first state to cap the income tax in its constitution and would prevent any future income-tax increases above 6 percent.
- B - (House resolution 1183, act No. 589)
Adding reckless-driving penalties or fees to the brain and spinal injury trust fund:
“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?”
Currently, our constitution allows additional fines for DUI offenses to go to the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund, a fund set up to assist victims of head and spinal cord injuries. However, because many DUI offenses are now being reduced to reckless driving charges, the solvency of the fund is being threatened. In fact, testimony during the last legislative session indicated that, while demands on the fund have increased, the fund’s assets have decreased by almost 25 percent since 2008.
If passed, the constitution will be amended to allow the courts to assess an additional 10 percent of the fine imposed under the reckless driving offense to go toward the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund.
Proposed statewide referendum
- 1 - (House bill No. 788, act No. 613)
Allows property owned by the University System of Georgia and operated by providers of student housing and other facilities to remain exempt from taxation:
“Shall property owned by the University System of Georgia and utilized by providers of college and university student housing and other facilities continue to be exempt from taxation to keep costs affordable?”
Currently, student housing and other facilities owned by the University System of Georgia are exempt from ad valorem taxes. If passed, this would allow the tax-exempt status to be passed on to a private party, who contractually is obligated to operate the property.
The purpose behind this proposal is to control the amount of debt that the university system has accumulated. As a result of building projects on university campuses undertaken in the past few years, the system has accumulated over $3.6 billion in debt. By allowing private companies to benefit from the ad valorem tax exemption, they can build the buildings and incur the debt obligation.
Agreements between the University System of Georgia and private companies would be from a competitive procurement process, would include measures to prohibit rent costs from being raised and passed on to students and could be terminated if breached.
Allowing these agreements would help the university system maintain its favorable bond ratings by containing debt while continuing to provide world-class facilities on university campuses.
Carter, who is running for Congress, can be reached at on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga.