There is a constitutional amendment No. 2 that has gotten almost no attention or publicity, much less commentary. Which is a bit strange as even adding a statement that Georgians believe in peace on Earth and goodwill toward men would normally generate debate and controversy. Hence, this one must be something really, really good — right? Well, maybe, and it is actually not easy to sort this one out.
The proposal seen will read as follows:
“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?”
Its approval by voters would in turn make into law Senate Bill 37, already OK’d and waiting in the wings, that permits the State Properties Commission (and if one can find the fine print, also the regents/University System and Department of Labor) to enter into multi-year leases (10 years tops) and sale/leaseback deals (20 years tops).
Apparently the Constitution, as currently interpreted, now limits rental deals to one-year contracts — sometimes over and over and over again under 100-year leases. That’s probably because the state’s budget must be constitutionally balanced every year and an action in one year committing the next legislative session to a specific outlay could make that difficult. In this sense and despite all the mumbo-jumbo from politicians about Georgia’s need for zero-based budgeting, it already has it.
Of course, that does not seem to apply to use of the taxpayers’ credit card (bonds) and those many-year commitments that already cost more than $1 billion a year in payments on principal and interest.
ACTUALLY, the proposed amendment is not a bad approach in that, in the real world, signing multi-year rental agreements tends to lower the price as the steady income stream being guaranteed is worth a concession from the owner. That’s why the state estimates this change could save $66 million over a decade — a more impressive way of saying $6.6 million a year.
This switch to multi-year deals was one of the recommendations made by a task force of business leaders put together by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican, two years ago in the hunt for how to reduce state spending. Additionally, Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, who sits on the State Properties Committee, has observed “We have multiple cases of state properties, some leased out for 100 years, with no guidelines and no structure. They always told us we couldn’t fix it because it was in the Constitution. This is in order to make sure we ... have control of what’s going on.”
Such seemingly rare bipartisanship may explain how this passed the General Assembly with zero opposing votes in the Senate and only three in the House.
The measure also would authorize the property panel to sign a deal with a licensed real-estate broker for transaction management. That is wise but, based on track record, a good guess would be that this might well be someone of whom whichever party is in power is fond. That’s not so wise and only one of the elements that might give voters some pause.
It comes down to this: The amendment actually is “good business” if inclined to trust the government as much as one trusts one’s own bank. That level of confidence has sadly been missing for some time as regards state government and left many voters inclined to trust what goes on there about as far as they can toss the Gold Dome.
THOSE OF such frame of mind may wish to avoid becoming too weary by the time they get to the end of a long ballot. The usual inclination then is just to get it over with and mark whatever one did right before, which this time would be a “yes” or “no” on the charter thing.
This should be of far more interest to Greater Rome’s voters than they know. If approved this could well help determine what will happen to the huge, empty Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital campus in the center of Rome. Its fate will be ultimately handled by the same property commission, charged with not only providing needed space for government operations but also with disposing of the considerable number of vacant or mothballed facilities the state has been piling up.
For example, the ex-hospital could be sold to a private company with a leaseback for them to operate it as a prison, or to a nonprofit as a state shelter for the homeless … or for a new college campus. Or the state might “sell” it to Rome for $1 with a specified share of any rents generated in the following 20 years.
In reading the fine print of the measure (which likely almost no one has) and considering the discussion about it (which does not exist until now) it really does sound better than the haphazard, short-term way such matters are now handled. On the other hand, it is impossible to miss that in the matter of rents the “shall” pay — that means must pay in legal jargon — has been changed to “may” pay in the final version. On the other hand, if passing empty property on to a doer of good deeds that could be nice. Everything depends on how things are done.
From the standpoint of more efficient management of state space needs and holdings the amendment would appear an overdue move. From the standpoint of it clearly giving even more power to a bureaucracy that many believe is already muscle-bound, it may be cause for voter skepticism.
MOST VOTERS who are also our readers, having now been vaguely informed as to what this is about, know which side of trusting/not trusting government they are on and thus need no instruction on our part regarding how to proceed.