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Other Issues on the 1998 Ballot
Prior to the Constitution of 1983, exemptions from ad valorem property taxation could only be granted by specific constitutional amendment. Effective with the new constitution, such exemptions can be granted by a two-thirds vote of each house of the General Assembly, conditioned upon a statewide referendum approved by a majority vote at the next general election (see Art. 7, Sec. 2, Par. 2). Five such proposed state-wide exemptions from ad valorem property taxation will appear on the ballot at the 1998 general election, in addition to the constitutional amendments.
By increasing exemptions for the ad valorem property tax, these five referenda necessarily will decrease the revenues available to city and county governments, to school districts, and to other local authorities that receive property tax revenue. However, no fiscal impact statements have been prepared for the referenda, so the amount of revenue that will be lost if they are approved is unknown. On the other hand, a majority of the members of the General Assembly felt that voters of Georgia should decide whether each of the cases proposed were worthy of property tax exemption. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government takes no position for or against any of the referenda.
In Macon and Bibb County, the ballot will contain one additional issue -- repeal of a 1986 local act of the General Assembly that continued a 1953 local constitutional amendment. This vote is necessitated by an amendment to Art. 11, Sec. 1, Par. 4 (b) of the Georgia Constitution ratified in 1996 which required that the repeal of any local constitutional amendment be subject to referendum approval in the jurisdiction affected. The background on this 1996 amendment is interesting and somewhat complicated.
Prior to the June 1, 1983 effective date of the current Georgia Constitution, local constitutional amendments were a fact of life in Georgia. At every general election, voters were asked not only to vote on a host of general amendments but also to approve local constitutional amendments that only affected their particular city or county. Before 1952, local constitutional amendments had to be approved by the voters of the entire state. However, a constitutional amendment approved that year provided that constitutional amendments of purely local application need only be approved by the voters of the affected city or county.This change led to a plethora of local amendments over time. The problem with this was that the exceptions were beginning to swallow the rule. In 1960, for example, 87 constitutional amendments were proposed, including 19 general amendments and 68 local amendments. In commenting on this number, the late constitutional scholar Albert Saye observed: "This is a record in world history for any state pretending to maintain constitutional government."
Framers of the 1983 Constitution felt that local amendments were eroding the concept of a statewide constitution and decided to prohibit any future constitutional amendments of local application. However, they were faced with the problem of what to do with the 974 local amendments that had already been ratified. So, they came up with a novel solution: all existing local amendments would be continued in force for a four-year grace period, after which time they would automatically be repealed unless the General Assembly passed a local act, or the affected local government enacted a local ordinance, to keep the local amendments in force. This local act or ordinance had to be enacted prior to July 1, 1987.
This is what happened to the local constitutional amendment relating to the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health. Originally ratified in 1953, the amendment was continued in force and effect by a local act of the legislature passed in 1986 (Ga. Laws 1986, p. 4682). In 1996 a general constitutional amendment was passed requiring that henceforth the repeal of any local amendment must be conditioned upon a referendum approved by voters in the city or county affected. Thus, the people of Macon and Bibb County are being asked to approve the repeal the 1986 local act in order to repeal the 1953 constitutional amendment.
If Macon and Bibb County voters approved the referendum, the 1986 local act of the General Assembly will stand repealed. That action will then result in the repeal of the 1953 local constitutional amendment setting up the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health. That board would then function under the provisions of general law relating to all other county boards of he would repeal of the 1953 amendment and allow the Bibb County Board of Health to be established in accordance with the provisions of general law (O.C.G.A. Title 31, Chap. 3) applicable to all other county boards of health in Georgia.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government takes
no position on whether the 1986 local act continuing the 1953
local constitutional amendment should be repealed. The current
Macon-Bibb County Board of Health requested repeal of the local
amendment, preferring instead to operate under general law. No
arguments have been heard or speculated on in opposition to repeal
of the local amendment.
As a general principle, the existence of local amendments which exempt certain cities or counties from application of the Georgia Constitution erodes the concept of a statewide constitution. Between 1983 and 1986, a number of local constitutional amendments were carried forward as a precaution or because of uncertain consequences should they expire. Many of these are now obsolete, no longer needed, or in some cases acting as an obstacle (since a local constitutional amendment takes precedence over a general statute). Thus, the Macon-Bibb local referendum may be the first of a number of future votes to repeal local constitutional amendments that still survive.
(c) 1998 Carl Vinson Institute of Government, The University of Georgia
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