When a Fee Becomes a Tax: - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

When a Fee Becomes a Tax:

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Restoring Transparency and the Public Trust in Georgia's Budget Making Process

Association County Commissioners of Georgia, January 2011

 

Hazardous Waste Trust Fund - O.C.G.A. §12-8-95

The Hazardous Waste Trust Fund (HWTF) is statutorily dedicated to fulfilling the Georgia State Superfund Law, which includes cleaning up hazardous waste sites (public and private; orphaned or not) and helping remediate old, unlined landfills that pose a threat to drinking water and the environment.   Most of the fees come from the state's 75-cent per-ton tipping fee on solid waste going into Georgia's landfills – a fee counties pay if they own/operate landfills.  Other monies are generated from the state's hazardous waste fee and hazardous substance fee.  According to O.C.G.A. §12-8-95(a), all revenue collected and deposited into the HWTF "shall be deemed expended and contractually obligated and shall not lapse to the general fund." To remediate old landfills, local governments do the work then apply to the state to get reimbursed through the HWTF.  There are currently over $70 million in remediation funding requests, both public and private, submitted to the HWTF which cannot be funded due to lack of appropriations.    

 

*Fees Collected in 2010:                                               $17,040,194

*Fees Appropriated in FY 2010:                                    $1,970,431        (please see accompanying chart)

 

Solid Waste Trust Fund - O.C.G.A. §12-8-27.1

The Solid Waste Trust Fund (SWTF) is funded from the $1 per-tire charge on all new tires sold in the state.  The SWTF is statutorily dedicated to clean up illegal scrap tire piles and dumps, abandoned landfills, fund recycling and waste reduction programs, eliminate the open dumps and litter that foul Georgia's roadsides and streams, and assist with other solid waste management programs.  According to O.C.G.A. §12-8-40.1 (h)(1), "all monies deposited into the SWTF shall be deemed expended and contractually obligated and shall not lapse to the general fund."  This fee sunsets on June 30, 2011, meaning it is up for reauthorization in the 2001 legislative session if it is to continue.             

 

*Fees Collected in 2010:                                               $6,000,000

*Fees Appropriated in FY 2010:                                                 $0          (please see accompanying chart)            

 

Emergency 9-1-1 Assistance Fund – O.C.G.A. §46-5-134.2

Declaring that "the safety and well-being of the citizens of Georgia is of the utmost importance and it is in the public interest to provide the highest level of emergency response service [statewide], " in 2007 the General Assembly passed legislation requiring vendors to pay fees on prepaid cellular phones (a charge of no less than $1.50 per pre-paid customer per month) to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA).  The DCA was to administer a grant program to fund enhanced emergency response services to needy communities around the state.  This fee generates approximately $8 million annually with over $25 million having been collected and remitted to the state general fund to date.  Regrettably, none of this money has ever been appropriated to DCA for its intended purpose.  Furthermore, vendors have informed ACCG that the market for pre pay cellular phones is growing at a rapid rate.  ACCG believes that only a portion of the fees owed are actually being remitted; however, DCA has no way to audit or enforce this as no money has been appropriated to the Emergency 9-1-1 Assistance Fund.

 

*Fees Collected since 2008:                                         $25,761,905

*Fees Appropriated since 2008:                                                                  $0         (please see accompanying table)

Administrative Fee for Collecting Local Sales Taxes – O.C.G.A. §48-8-89(a)(1) and §48-8-115(a)(1)

The state government keeps 1 percent of all local sales tax revenue "in order to defray the costs of administration to local governments."  This collection amounts to approximately $48 million annually.  There may be some additional costs to the Department of Revenue (DOR) for disbursing the local portion of the sales tax to the counties and cities; however, the basic framework and administrative costs are fixed that enable the State to collect its 4 percent of the sales tax.  Unfortunately, the State does not assess a fee that is commiserate with the actual cost of providing the service.  The amount of disbursing local governments' portion is estimated to be far less than $48 million a year.  This revenue is deposited to the state's General Fund and DOR does not receive any additional resources with which to accurately audit.  Currently, Georgia audits less than one-half of 1 percent of accounts a year.  Neighboring states audit around 5 percent of their accounts annually.  As Georgia moves toward more reliance on consumption taxes and accurately collecting existing taxes, adequate auditing is essential.      

 

Peace Officer and Prosecutors Training Fund – O.C.G.A. §15-21-73(a)(1)(A)

This fund was created to provide training for peace officers and prosecutors in the State.  These funds are generated by an add-on fee imposed as an additional penalty to any criminal or quasi-criminal offense by adding the lesser of $50 or 10 percent of the original fine.  The add-on also applies to bonds, equaling the lesser of $100 or 10 percent original amount of the bail or bond.  An estimated $26 million was generated in FY 2009.  While these fines are levied by local law enforcement, and prosecuted in county courts, virtually all of the funding goes to train state agency law enforcement officers.  All local law enforcement training is financed by counties and cities.  While about $10 million was appropriated to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in FY 2009 for state officer training, the remaining $16 million was redirected to the state's General Fund to be used for unrelated purposes.  No funding was appropriated for local officer training.  

 

Indigent Defense – Public Defenders Program – O.C.G.A. §15-21-73(a)(1)(A); §15-21-73(a)(1)(B); and §15-21-6(a)

This fund is composed of a 10-percent add-on to criminal and traffic fines and fees, a 10-percent add-on to bonds and bail fines (with a $100 cap), a $15 dollar add-on to civil filing fees, and a $50 indigent defense application fee (which may be waived by a judge).  These funds generated approximately $53 million in FY 2010 with only $40 million appropriated to the Public Defenders Standards Council.  The remaining $13 million was redirected to the state's General Fund to be used for unrelated purposes. Counties currently pay more than 60 percent of the cost of indigent defense for the superior and juvenile court.  The redirection of criminal fines and fees to the state's General Fund proportionately increases the indigent defense costs paid by county taxpayers.

 

Joshua's Law – Driver's Ed Training – O.C.G.A. §15-21-179(a)

This fee is a 5-percent add-on to traffic fines and/or bond payments (all levels of court).  Its purpose was to provide driver education and training through a grant program.  In FY 2010, $10.8 million was collected and remitted to the state general fund.  None of this funding was appropriated for driver education and training; it was used for other purposes.

 

Judicial Operation Fund Fee – O.C.G.A. §15-21-A-6.2 

This fee was created during the 2010 legislative session.  It creates a $125 fee to be added to every civil filing in State Court – $75 is to be remitted to the State to fund Judicial Operations and $50 is retained by the county general fund.  State Courts receive no state funding; they are completely funded by local county government.