Your Incomprehensible Legal Argument Of The Week

While not as dramatic as using naked dancing to dissolve a city, nor as fundamental as the crisis of Bibles on State-owned property, this week’s Constitutional question is a puzzler.

Governor Deal signed a law earlier this month that he doesn’t agree with. The Hazardous Waste Trust fund, renewed this year after a pretty fierce tug-of-war between the Georgia House and the Georgia Senate, is supposed to dedicate that fees assessed for specific purposes are actually used for those purposes. The $1 “Tire Clean-up Fee” for instance, assessed on every new tire sold in Georgia, is supposed to go into The Solid Waste Trust fund and pay for cleaning up old tire dump sites and unlined landfills. It doesn’t. “Last year, only $722,139 of $6.4 million collected in tire fees was appropriated to the Solid Waste Trust Fund.” But in signing the renewal bill, Governor deal issued a signing statement that says in part:

“…Article 3, Section 9, Paragraph 6 of the Constitution of Georgia specifically limits any attempt to dedicate revenues in a general bill unless specifically permitted by the Constitution of Georgia. Without such specific permission in our Constitution, I would deem this language in House Bill 276 as being nonbinding on any subsequent General Assembly as it goes about its yearly duty to appropriate funds.” 

So which is it? Is putting money to the purpose it’s supposed to be used for an unconstitutional earmark?

Here’s the section of the Georgia Constitution cited by the Governor: (link goes to pdf)

Paragraph VI. Appropriations to be for specific sums. (a ) Except as hereinafter provided, the appropriation for each department, officer, bureau, board, commission, agency, or institution for which appropriation is made shall be for a specific sum of money; and no appropriation shall allocate to any object the proceeds of any particular tax or fund or a part or percentage thereof.

But thereinafter, our controlling legal document provides 12 different ways (b through n) our legislature can allocate the proceeds of “particular taxes or funds.” So Georgia can dedicate fees to specific purposes -but only if the Constitution says so. And currently, it appears to be silent on how to fund the trust funds.

Of course, those of you with actual legal training may have different opinions.



  1. John Konop says:

    I do think fes allocated to the service in general is the best way to fund…….must be an association of pain and gain or things get out of control…….in the ajc article you linked to, he claims this disaasiotion of fees to use is growing……all should take note……,this usually is a recipe for abuse……

    Very informative post, thank you Mike!

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Georgia discussion should reference revenue and not fees, a meaningless term in Georgia. Representatives that call $2,500 to title a car a fee are dumb as dirt, or think you’re dumb as dirt.

  2. Left Turn Only says:

    It’s not incomprehensible at all. At the time the 1983 Constitution was adopted, Georgia law was full of earmarked funds, the purpose of some of which were long out of date. In order to regain control of the appropriations process, the General Assembly wisely inserted into the new Constitution a provision banning such earmarks. since then the lessons of history have been forgotten and the General Assembly began earmarking funds. Sometimes they heeded lawyers’ advice and amended the Constitution to allow certain earmarks. Other times they couldn’t be bothered with the law and simply provided earmarks by statute, which is fine until they are challenged in court (which no one ever does) or the Gov. needs an excuse to do as he wishes with the funds (which is legal). The G.A., by the way, routinely ignores Constitutional provisions when it gets in their way, and much recent important legislation is on very shaky Constitutional ground.

  3. saltycracker says:

    And the legislators wonder why the public has such a low opinion of them.
    The language of bills is bad enough but passing bills on the premise of direct use is a fraud.
    We have a constant parade of “not exactly” coming from the legislation on the use of revenue.

  4. rrrrr says:

    So let’s play state constitution for $400 please…

    If the state executive branch can’t be required to use “fees” for the advertised purpose and local governments (County, City) derive powers from the state.

    How then can local governments actually be required to spend the funds collected as “fees” on THEIR advertized purposes?

Comments are closed.