The controversy over fees being diverted from their intended purposes and instead used for other things is really a symptom of a bigger problem: Georgia lacks the money to invest in education, transportation, public safety and other building blocks of job creation and economic growth.
Over the past few years, tens of millions of dollars in so-called dedicated fees — like traffic fines supposed to be used to train police — have been shifted to other items where the state was short of funding. HB 811 would attempt to stop these diversions by requiring that revenue from such fees must either be spent for the intended purpose or gradually reduced. However, the Senate moved this week to significantly water down the proposed law.
There is no reason why there should be controversy over how to spend the money collected from the special fees.
If the General Assembly passes laws that require Georgian’s to pay fees for tire clean-ups, driver education, or police training, the money collected from the fees should be spent as intended, not to fill other budget holes. It’s not just a matter of money but also maintaining Georgians’ trust that their government is doing what it said it would do.
But at the same time, Georgia continues to face a significant gap between growing needs and the revenue it takes to meet those needs. Even with moderate revenue growth from the improving economy, Georgia faces a shortfall of over $300 million in Fiscal Year 2014. Our schools, public health departments, law enforcement and other vital services are threatened with inadequate and declining support — the opposite of what Georgia needs to grow its economy and create jobs.
There’s a better way.
A balanced approach to the state budget, one that includes additional revenues, would help assure that dedicated fees are spent as intended and that the priorities of education, healthcare, law enforcement and other essentials are met.
Comprehensive tax reform that results in new revenues would help Georgia gain this best of both worlds.