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Mimosas and Marsy’s Law: A voting guide to the ballot questions this year 

YOU’RE GOING to be voting on nine, yes nine, ballot questions this election season. Do you know what they are? I had to search and call for hours just to scratch the surface of them. And while I acknowledge there’s more to know, I’ve learned enough to make up my mind.

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AMENDMENT 1:

This amendment would allow the state to dedicate "up to" 80% of sales tax revenue from outdoor sporting goods for state parks and trails, land and water conservation and other outdoor stewardship uses. It’s very attractive and folks I admire, like the Georgia Conservancy, are behind it. But let me tell you. There’s a whole list of so-called "dedicated taxes" that aren’t going to their dedicated uses at all. This is the classic "may" verses "shall" wording that lets lawmakers play shell games. It’s toothless and unnecessary. Lawmakers already have the power to increase funding for outdoor stewardship. It’s called the budget process. They do it every year. I’m voting "no."

AMENDMENT 2:

This amendment would create so-called "business courts" in Georgia. Wow! So corporations get their own courts now. It’s not enough that corporations are people. But now they get their own special judges. And not only that. These judges, unlike the judges that corporations face now, won’t be elected by the people. That’s right. "Business judges" will be appointed by the Governor "to assure certainty" for corporations. We know what that means: corporations win! This is the most egregious of the proposed amendments. I’m voting "no."

AMENDMENT 3:

The only people who seem to know what this amendment is about are its supporters, the Georgia Forestry Association. And even based on what they say, it sounds awful. This amendment would create a special tax valuation system for timber land. They don’t want counties to assess their land value like yours and mine. They want the state to do it. And they admit that the aim is to lower county taxes. It sounds like loss of local control and revenue. It sounds like my schools, my public safety and my local priorities get shafted so large landowners can profit. I’m voting "no."

AMENDMENT 4:

This amendment, on so-called "Marsy’s Law," would increase the rights of crime victims, things like the right to be notified about criminal proceedings. Again, I’m tempted by this. It sounds good. I was poised to vote "yes" until I learned the background. This amendment is part of a national campaign to get similar amendments passed nationwide. They’ve been very successful. But in Georgia, it’s unnecessary. This entire amendment is already part of Georgia law, enacted in 2010, nearly word for word the same. Proponents argue that putting it in the constitution would make it stronger. It doesn’t. Unless the Georgia Supreme Court strikes down the law (unlikely in our conservative state) then it’s the law. Now, if the court strikes it down, come back to me. But in the meantime, this is a feel good vote to give some national group another win to show their donors. I’m voting "no."

AMENDMENT 5:

This amendment would affect about 20 counties that have both city and county school systems. This does not include Chatham County, where we have one unified system. In split counties, it would allow the larger school system to call a county-wide ESPLOST referendum on its own, without negotiating with the smaller system, as is the case now. Proponents say, in some cases, the smaller system can hold up negotiations if it doesn’t get enough funding. This just sounds like a bunch of fragile egos want voters to solve their lack of negotiation skills. At worst, it sounds like bullying. I’m voting "no."

REFERENDUM 1:

This referendum deals entirely with City of Atlanta taxes and really upset me until I learned some background. My anger was the wording. It might as well be a foreign language. What I’ve deciphered is that it’s a Republican effort to fight Atlanta property taxes. But Atlanta’s Democratic mayor apparently negotiated concessions to protect important city initiatives like water projects, the BeltLine and schools. It passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support. And although I question why it’s on a statewide ballot, because Atlanta’s mayor likes it, and I trust her, I’m voting "yes."

REFERENDUM 2:

This referendum would grant non-profit tax exemptions to certain properties if they’re used as homes for the mentally ill under very specific circumstances. Its primary backer is an Atlanta group called 3Keys, which has 477 Georgia residential units for the mentally ill. They appear to have a complicated business structure involving both profit and non-profit entities. Although I’m concerned by the appearance of legislation for a specific business and the fact that no other home for the mentally ill seems to know about it, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Georgia chapter likes it. And Rosalynn Carter appears to like 3Keys. I’m voting "yes."

SAVANNAH SPECIAL ELECTION 1:

The so-called "mimosa bill," this item would clear the way for alcohol sales on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. instead of 12:30 p.m. This is obvious. It’s money in the pockets of hardworking wait staff. I’ll vote "yes."

SAVANNAH SPECIAL ELECTION 2:

Another confusing question, this item would cut city taxes for certain businesses, specifically fulfillment centers. I tried in vain to find studies linking this specific business incentive to job growth. Georgia habitually hands out tax breaks without measuring outcomes. The Chamber, SEDA and Savannah City Government are all behind it with "competitiveness" arguments. But I’m not sure it’s needed, given how competitive our area already is. Year after year, they tout record growth in logistics. I’m voting "no" just so the City of Savannah doesn’t have any more reason to raise my taxes or cut my services.

cs
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Orlando Montoya

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