One, maybe two, measures on Georgia’s ballot following legislative session adjournment

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March 24, 2014

By Ryan Byrne

On March 20, 2014, Georgia’s legislative session ended with one initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot and a legislatively-referred state statute that was approved in both legislative chambers, but still requires the governor’s signature.[1] The Income Tax Rate Cap Amendment, the only measure on the general election ballot thus far, was narrowly approved in the Georgia Senate, where the amendment met the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement by only four votes.[2] The Income Tax Rate Cap Amendment would, upon the approval of voters, prohibit the state from increasing the maximum state income tax rate above that in effect on January 1, 2015.[3] Since the legislative session is adjourned until 2015, the current maximum state income tax rate of six percent is the percentage that would be capped by the measure's approval. Sen. David Shafer (R-48), an amendment supporter, argued, "It’s make it clear that our income tax rate is not going up. It helps increase our competitiveness by pointing out to businesses making expansion decisions that while other states could increase their rates tomorrow our rates our constitutionally capped." Sen. Steve Henson (D-41), on the other hand, argued that the ballot measure is a campaign tool for Republicans, including in the upcoming gubernatorial and senatorial elections. He said, "Know that as legislators and as government we need to have different tools and different options available and voting for that restricts it. The only reason we’re doing it is so that we will have a campaign tool during the election."[4]

A second measure, which will likely be on the ballot since all the measure needs is the governor's signature and the governor has stated his support, is the Private College Buildings Tax Exemption Amendment. The measure would extend a "public property" ad valorem tax exemption to privately owned and operated student dormitories and parking decks that are obliged by contract to serve the University of Georgia.[5] It was sponsored by five Republicans and two Democrats from the Georgia House of Representatives and was approved with little opposition, but not unanimously, in the state legislature.

At least five other legislative referrals were introduced in the Georgia Legislature, but none of them came up for vote. Such referrals included an English as Official Language Amendment, a Personhood Amendment, an Income Tax Abolishment Amendment and a Secret Ballot Amendment. Sen. Jason Carter (D-42), who's currently running for governor and is the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, introduced an Education Trust Fund Amendment, which would have established an education trust fund that is distinct from the state general budget and ordered legislators to first approve an education budget before they negotiate a general appropriations budget. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that the amendment "will mainly serve as a platform for Carter" and stood little chance of being approved in the legislature.[6]

The only way that more legislative referrals could appear on the ballot in November is if a special legislative session is called for by Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

See also