Vote No On Amendment 2

October 18, 2012 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 30 comments

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide for a reduction in the state’s operating costs by allowing the General Assembly to authorize certain state agencies to enter into multiyear rental agreements?”

There’s been quite a lot of press regarding Georgia’s proposed constitutional amendment allowing for the re-constitution of the State Charter School Commission.  I remain a strong supporter of that one, as I believe it is the best solution to keep public money in public schools while giving parents options.  Parents, after all, are as “local” as you can get with respect to control over a child’s education.

There’s been significantly less discussion about the other constitutional amendment, listed above, which would allow for the State to enter into long term real estate contracts lasting up to 20 years.  It deserves more discussion. It also needs better enabling legislation – legislation which would tie into much stronger ethics in government laws.

The concept is generally a good one.  Because of state law, Georgia and its agencies can only enter into one year lease agreements.  In theory, the state will save money if it is able to enter into long term leases which would allow for the state to receive rental rates closer to market.

One year tenants cause significant marketing expense for landlords, as well as additional overhead and allowances made for tenants to move in and out, and an anticipated holding cost for transition periods for when the space is between tenants.  Landlords also face higher borrowing costs and a more difficult time finding financing for their buildings because of the increased risks associated with short term tenants.  Those costs are estimated and factored into the rental rates accordingly on short term leases.

And, if that’s too complicated, there’s a nice pre-amble added above the amendment on the ballot to make it clear: “Allows the state to save taxpayer funds through multi-year real estate rental agreements.”  So, we should all just vote yes because it will “provide for a reduction in the state’s operating costs” and “save taxpayer funds”, right?  Let’s not be quite so hasty.

In a perfect world, this amendment makes perfect sense and should be adopted without hesitation.  We, as the voters have to decide how perfect our state government is as it is currently being run.  Once again, that nagging question of voter trust is rearing its ugly head.

The problem with long term agreements is that a short term abuse of the procurement process is magnified in scope and extended from today’s voters into tomorrow’s taxpayers as well.  To put it bluntly, provisions that cap government contracts to one year or less limit the amount of money that can be stolen from taxpayers at one sitting.  Extending the time period for transactions to 20 years allow those who nibble around the edges to pull up a chair to the buffet and dig in.

Voters told our leaders in no uncertain terms that we believe there is an ethics problem with how state government is run.  It is clear that the insiders can influence legislation and contracts with ease.  If we allow those currently in charge access to 20 year state revenue streams, we will be letting those who enjoy today’s system of patronage leverage their standing to pull forward favors from taxpayers for the next two decades.

The enabling legislation calls for all multi-year contracts to be reviewed and approved by a board.  We’ve had enough “teachable moments” from this Governor’s administration to understand the value of independent review – there is none.  It has been made clear and is the stated policy of Governor Deal that independence on boards is not tolerated.  Boards are now just for show.

One day, hopefully, there will be enough trust in how Georgia’s government is run to allow for an amendment to pass.  Today is not that day.

Georgia needs significant ethics reforms.  There needs to be greater transparency for those who do business with the state.  Trust must be restored.  Good governance must be demonstrated.

Paying slightly higher rates for a few more years is a small price to pay to avoid giving away 20 year favors to today’s patronage class.  Vote no on this amendment.  That is the best way to save Georgians money.

Scott65 October 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Amen! I was wondering why we were not hearing more about this. Case in Point…say Sonny had land and wanted a highway to run through it…why sell it to the state (with the market so low). He could LEASE it to the state in a 20 year or so lease and make out like MORE of a bandit. There are a whole bunch of crooks under the gold dome who would just love the prospect of a long term lease

seekingtounderstand October 18, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Gov. Deals friends would love you to lock in for 20 plus years………………vote no!

saltycracker October 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Agree and it could get a lot worse. Did a quick look and could not find how property is defined. If it includes property like industrial equipment, trucks, cars, buses and so on it could be an incredible mess. If so the list of potential nightmares and ability to cripple agencies with a few bad (stupid or corrupt) decisions is a long one. Longer with the typical GA legislator’s reasoning.

Calypso October 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm

No to both amendments.

SallyForth October 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

+100
This part of Charlie’s post bears repeating:

The problem with long term agreements is that a short term abuse of the procurement process is magnified in scope and extended from today’s voters into tomorrow’s taxpayers as well. To put it bluntly, provisions that cap government contracts to one year or less limit the amount of money that can be stolen from taxpayers at one sitting. Extending the time period for transactions to 20 years allow those who nibble around the edges to pull up a chair to the buffet and dig in.

And the baloney they’re dishing about being “incentive for landlords to make improvements” is full of crap. Once they have you locked in for long term, landlords won’t even fix leaks in the roof, much less do routine maintenance.

Three Jack October 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Agree absolutely.

One quick question though based on the following statement — “We’ve had enough “teachable moments” from this Governor’s administration to understand the value of independent review – there is none. It has been made clear and is the stated policy of Governor Deal that independence on boards is not tolerated. Boards are now just for show.”

Considering that line of thought, how could you be ‘a strong supporter’ of Amendment 1 which sets up an unaccountable board with political appointees including 3 by the governor?

Charlie October 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Because we had one, it worked, and it functioned well.

Also, as I understand it, it’s the board that approves the charter schools but they’re still managed and run locally. The Charter School Commission isn’t in the business of running & operating these schools.

Lea Thrace October 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm

“Considering that line of thought, how could you be ‘a strong supporter’ of Amendment 1 which sets up an unaccountable board with political appointees including 3 by the governor?”

I think heads just exploded. Mine included. Good point.

Charlie October 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Mine didn’t, as you’ll note by the answer above.

While I’m more than willing to discuss Charter Schools, I’ll also note that we have an ongoing thread about that subject just a couple down from this one. Any follow ups should be re-directed there, as I don’t want to be running parallel conversations about that topic and confuse this one.

griftdrift October 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Hopefully I’m not going to get in trouble here. But I think I can explain the difference ( it took me a while to figure it out too )

Amendment 1 is clearing up a Constitutional issue that is preventing us from doing something we were already doing.

Amendment 2 is allowing us to do something we don’t currently do.

One we have a record to see how it works. The other we don’t. That’s why even on the surface it may seem cognitively dissonant to say we need additional legislation in place for number 2 when that’s what the opponents of 1 have been saying about 1 all along. But the difference is 1, we’ve already seen the controls work. In 2 we haven’t, and Charlie’s position is even in theory they are not adequate.

Three Jack October 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Nice work Grift. But “Boards are now just for show” pretty much covers old boards, new boards or boards under consideration as long as this governor is in charge of appointing board members. I’ll stick with voting no to both amendments.

Calypso October 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm

+1

John Konop October 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I agree well said!

griftdrift October 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm

A valid point and one I’ve wrestled with. But along that line of reasoning you have to question the effect of all boards, DOT, Education, etc.

Maybe you do. But if your going to argue on philosophical grounds, you have to be willing to carry it to he end.

griftdrift October 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Well I guess you could exclude elected boards. Appointed boards as you say are a different animal.

fishtail October 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm

The elephant in the room here is the Board of Regents, who would be included in this new ability to enter into 20 year lease deals. If this Amendment passes, the University System would go on a building boom like never seen before in this State…new student dorms, research buildings, office towers, athletic facilities, etc. that would eclipse all the other State Agencies efforts combined. A couple billion would be spent in a very short time period. I am very surprised the Georgia Tea Party is not all over this Amendment.

Bloodhound October 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

We’re going from 1 year to 20 years?!?!?

“One foot on the brake and one on the gas!!!!” comes to mind.

How about increasing the term to 5 years and see how it plays out. Why the huge over-compensation?

Rick Day October 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Generally, it is a bad idea to change a constitution, unless it clarifies or enumerates a right for the people, as opposed, in these two cases for the increasing the tentacles of government.

The GOP’s showpiece legislations for the past cycles (gay marriage and voter ID) are about to predictably be overturned on constitutional grounds by the Feds.

The only constitutional change I would vote on is to force elected sponsors of unconstitutional laws to reimburse the taxpayers for defending the damn things in court.

But that me.

I’m with you on this one as well.

novicegirl October 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Under 20-year leases, the Taylor family would still be collecting rent checks from every state agency south of the gnat line.

Max Power October 19, 2012 at 7:45 am

Exactly the reason I oppose this amendment. Show me you can run a state government without corruption and maybe we’ll talk.

cheapseats October 19, 2012 at 8:27 am

It used to be that any of these amendments placed on the ballot would just pass – almost without notice. I’m happy to see that’s no longer the case.

I almost always voted no on all of them since I actually read them and looked up the whole text of what was really going on.

Anyway, there is a great distrust among the electorate now and that is really quite bizarre on the face of it since it’s the electorate that put these “untrusted” people in office to begin with. Not only have I moved far past any party-affiliation but I’ve also moved past trusting or distrusting any particular party because the folks I trust the least are the voters of Georgia. They have a long record of poor judgement.

Lea Thrace October 19, 2012 at 8:29 am

I agree with all of that. I will add that for me, the distrust extends to the national level and the voting American public.

saltycracker October 19, 2012 at 8:48 am

This general distrust of leadership may well overcome the dislike of increasing property taxes in Cherokee with the HOST vote.

Dave Bearse October 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I appreciate Charlie bringing the crony-in-chief in to the argument, because that isn’t winning him any friends in some important circles.

20 years in nearly all cases is much too a long a lease term. Taxpayers in nearly all such cases would be better served by public ownership of the building.

The fraction of the rent going to property taxes (I assume a state agency leasing the building doesn’t exempt the building from property taxes), financing (state bonds versus the private mortgage market rates, and that difference is reflected in rent whether there’s a mortgage on the property or not), and landlords profit are collectively significant. Building ownership contributes to the bottom line of many business on the landlord profit component alone.

Does Georgia not have numerous buildings and experience managing them? Or was Gena Evans not able to run a tight ship?

There is also an element of privatizing profit and socializing risk as in how much money would the state be saving now had the state locked into numerous 20 year leases in 2007?

A 20 year state lease essentially pays for a building, yet the state will have nothing to show for it at the end of 20 years of lease payments.

seekingtounderstand October 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Do not miss the AJC front page story on Gov. Deals and friends latest land deal in Hall County. Help Georgia taxpayers by sending that link to your friends and family.

Stop expecting the tea party to be the only one working for accountability!!!!

Dave Bearse October 23, 2012 at 1:22 am

It doesn’t matter to Georgia voters that Deal enriches himself, so it’s unlikely it’s going to matter that Deal is enriching cronies.

Besides, an understanding of the details requires more than a three sentences explanation which places it beyond either the attention span or comprehension of the typical Georgia voter. Who wants to talk about a Hall County chicken laboratory when there’s a Honey Boo Boo episode to discuss?

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm

That’s “Miss Honey Boo-Boo Child” to you, mister.

jjetts November 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I am fairly new to voting although I am not a young person. I decided to check out what was on the ballot. I’m glad I did. I can’t believe the wording on both these ammendments. What’s up with that? The way they are worded basically says if you check “no” that you are against improving schools and saving the state money. Wow! If I had not done a little research I would have automatically voted yes on both of these.

Calypso November 2, 2012 at 5:52 am

Thanks for doing your homework on these two flawed amendments. I trust you will vote NO on the charter school amendment as well.

Welcome to voting and having a say in who represents you and other issues.

benevolus November 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

One might think that’s why they wrote the law the way they did in the first place.

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