Georgia's lawmakers can never be accused of shyness when it comes to proposing amendments to the state's constitution.
Every general election, Georgia voters are asked to approve a handful of amendments. It's rare that such referendums fail.
But more of them should. Voters spend far too little time trying to understand the ballot questions, which aren't exactly written in easily decipherable language. And too many of those questions are designed to benefit special interests that influence the lawmakers who write them.
This year's ballot, for example, includes three questions that would amend the state constitution. The state would not be harmed one bit if every one of them failed; none of the questions were created because of the public seeking to right a wrong.
Instead, all three of the amendments are designed purely to benefit the well-connected. That doesn't necessarily make them bad; it just means that any good they might do for everyone else is purely coincidental.
Take the first amendment. The ballot question reads like this:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the General Assembly by general law shall encourage the preservation, conservation, and protection of the state's forests through the special assessment and taxation of certain forest lands and assistance grants to local government?"
Gee, that sounds swell! Just one problem: the "state's forests" the amendment would "preserve" are privately owned tracts of 200 acres or more. The only "protection" is for big timber-tract owners, who would be exempt from taxes on the value of their trees.
It's almost hilarious to note that the legislation behind the referendum would require the state to provide a local assistance grant to counties if the exempted timber reduces local tax revenue by more than 3 percent.
Counties all over Georgia, right now, are sweating the possibility of losing millions in tax revenue because Gov. Sonny Perdue is witholding funding for homeowner property tax relief. Could those counties honestly expect to get state rebates for lost timber taxes?
The second amendment is even less enlightening:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize community redevelopment and authorize counties, municipalities, and local boards of education to use tax funds for redevelopment purposes and programs?"
The good news is such "redevelopment" programs require a vote by local governments.
The bad news? Local officials, including Columbia County school officials, are pretty much clueless on this issue. Yet Joe Six-Pack is supposed to amend the state constitution to allow it?
The final amendment on the ballot isn't much better:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by general law for the creation and comprehensive regulation of infrastructure development districts for the provision of infrastructure as authorized by local governments?"
In simplest terms, this question would allow developers to provide infrastructure for their projects through assessments to the people who move into them.
Environmental groups are opposing this amendment because developers might not be environmentally friendly enough in their projects. That seems pretty flimsy, especially considering the projects would have to get the approval of local governments even though they would be funded entirely by the property owners.
Our recommendation? Go to www.sos.ga.gov, the secretary of state's Web site, to read the full text of these amendments.
Or, if that's too much trouble, vote no - because if voters aren't willing to make a little extra effort before amending the state constitution, it shouldn't be amended in the first place.
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