It asks voters to allow three government agencies to enter into multi-year leases for property. Officials from the Department of Labor, State Properties Commission and the University System of Georgia say they could save taxpayers by taking advantage of discounts landlords offer for long-term contracts.
It could be as much as $66 million over 10 years, according to the Properties Commission, the entity that manages leases for most state agencies.
"You get a better deal if you sign a lease for 10 years than for five years," said Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, the original sponsor of the legislation.
Generally, landlords figure a long-term arrangement saves them the money needed to paint, clean and fix up when tenants move out. Willingness to stay for years gives renters added negotiating strength to access some of the landlord's savings.
Plus, Carter said, the benefits may be more than financial.
"If you only sign a one-year lease, they aren't inclined to make any improvements," said Carter, who is himself a businessman.
Of the handful of states with the top grade from bond-rating agencies, Georgia is one of two that is limited to single-year leases even though it typically stays in rented space for about 11 years.
The reason for the limit is the constitution prohibits the legislators elected in one year from tying the hands of those elected later. The flexibility allows voters to change their minds and send lawmakers to undo what previous politicians have started.
Fourteen young members of the House of Representatives voted against Carter's proposal, even though it had passed the Senate unanimously. One of those opposed was Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, who questioned whether it will actually save taxpayers money.
"Also, if economic conditions change, short leases allow the state to get out of them and find more cost-effective contracts like the situation that just occurred in St. Marys this summer," he said.
The Labor Department, reacting to budget cuts, planned to close its St. Marys office to save on rent. In that case, Spencer helped the department get rent-free space in an old library from the city.
On the other hand, most large companies like national retail chains find that they can break their long-term leases without having to pay the full commitment, said Sen. Jack Hill, a Reidsville Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"I think that's pretty common in business," he said.
Multi-year contracts aren't a new idea in Georgia. The last time voters had a chance to change the constitution, they passed an amendment that gives the Department of Transportation power to sign multi-year contracts for large, road-construction projects with the goal of saving citizens' money as well.
Carter's amendment leaves the legislature the option of ending the multi-year leases if there's no money.
However, his original version would have also limited the leases to 10 years except in the case where the state sold a building and then leased it from the new owner. Those time limits aren't part of the final version before voters today, but they are included in a new state law that legislators can revise any time.
The longer lease obligations will be counted in the state's accounting for total debt and subject to its debt-management plan. As part of the total debt calculation, it will contribute to the ceiling on how much new debt the state can take on through the sale of bonds.