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.