Georgia ballot questions, explained
At the foot of your midterm ballot, there are going to be some referendum questions. Here’s what they mean:
Referendum A: a partial cap on rises in property tax bills in the city of Atlanta
A “yes” vote means: yes, cap the city part of your homesteaded property tax bill so it won’t go up more than 2.6 percent a year.
A “no” vote means: keep the same system, property tax bills will rise with assessments.
This is a partial cap because it only applies to the city part of your property tax bill. It doesn’t touch the Atlanta Public Schools’ part of the bill, which is the biggest part of the typical tax bill.
So if your Atlanta neighborhood is so hot that the value of your house is going up by the double digits every year, this will keep some of that heat out of your tax bill. That’ll be useful to legacy residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. The flip side is that such a break is regressive — folks with very expensive homes save more money than those with modest homes.
It passed the Legislature with few objections. More details in House Bill 820.
Special Election: bigger Atlanta schools homestead exemption
A “yes” vote means you’d get a $50,000 homestead exemption for the schools part of your property tax bill through 2021.
A “no” vote leaves the homestead exemption for the schools part of your property tax bill at $30,000.
This also saves you a little money on property taxes — but it’s only meant to be a short-term protection from higher property values that are expected as Fulton straightens out its valuation process. After 2021, lawmakers may, or may not, return to the idea of expanding the homestead exemption.
On the one hand, it does mean less revenue for schools. On the other hand, it also grants homeowners some relief from higher property taxes. But the relief is equal whether you have a mansion or a modest bungalow: $20,000 more in homestead exemption. It passed the state Legislature as Senate Bill 485 with almost no opposition.
Atlanta Sunday brunch bill
A “yes” vote means you want Atlanta restaurants and bars to be able to start serving alcohol at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays.
A “no” vote means the Sunday sales time would remain 12:30 p.m.
Call it the “brunch bill” or the “mimosa mandate;” its fans do too. This vote was set up by Atlanta City Council by a unanimous vote. The state Legislature authorized such local votes, over a lot of objections, in SB 17.
QUESTIONS THAT APPLY TO THE WHOLE STATE
Constitutional amendment 1, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund
A “yes” vote means, yes, when someone buys outdoor goods (like fishing poles or tents), the state would take some of that sales tax money and spend it on buying new public land or improving the public land we have.
A “no” vote means that sales tax money continues to go where it does now: mixed into the state’s general bank account that’s spent according to a different state budget every year.
Georgia does already spend money on buying and fixing up public land already. This amendment gives public lands a dependable funding source. There are checks on the fund though: if the economy tanks so bad that the state is cutting spending on things like teachers and child protection, this would get cut too. It sunsets in 10 years, and is capped at about $40 million annually. Both Republicans and Democrats broadly supported this in the state Legislature. More reporting here on the bill.
Constitutional amendment 2, business court
A “yes” vote means, yes, set up a separate court where businesses can take their complex disputes, separate from regular civil court.
A “no” vote means, no, keep courts the way they are.
Supporters say it’ll be quicker and cheaper to get consistent judgements in complex business cases if there’s this special venue where judges build up business expertise; and these kind of disputes won’t clog regular courts.
But the bill had many opponents in the Legislature. Mostly, but not all, Democrats. It was mainly because the judges in this statewide court would be appointed by the governor to renewable five-year terms, subject to confirmation by state House and Senate judiciary committees. That’s different from trial and appellate courts in Georgia, where judges are elected.
Ballot language and some details in HR 993
Constitutional amendment 3, timberland property taxes
A “yes” vote means make adjustments to how large timberlands are valued for taxes. This would put valuation in state hands, among other changes.
A “no” vote means leave things as they are.
This is a big deal in the parts of Georgia that are covered in timber plantations, as well as to the counties that want to collect property taxes on that land and to the state, which gives such land property tax breaks. This referendum makes various adjustments to definitions of this land and how the state reimburses counties for lost property taxes. This got nearly unanimous support in the state Legislature.
Constitutional amendment 4, victims of crime
A “yes” vote puts certain victims’ rights in the state Constitution, like the right to be notified if the person who committed a crime against you is getting released from prison.
A “no” vote leaves things as they are.
Georgia law already guarantees a pretty wide range of victims’ rights; referendum would put those rights in the state Constitution. The phrase “Marsy’s Law” doesn’t appear on the ballot, but that’s the name of the nationwide campaign for these changes. It’s a campaign by software billionaire Henry Nicholas, started in the name of his sister, a murder victim. A South Dakota version of the bill, however, slowed courts to a crawl, and a question about changing it is on the ballot there. Various versions of it in different states have attracted criticism from prosecutors as well as defense attorneys. Georgia’s version got unanimous support in the state Legislature and does not make vast changes the way South Dakota’s did.
Constitutional Amendment 5, sales taxes for schools
This will be on every ballot, but it only applies in counties that have more than one school district. And it only matters if those districts and that county are disputing about whether to set up a penny sales tax for education and how they’d split it. Fulton is not in any such fight right now. But if some place were in that situation, this gives the larger school district in a county more power to set up an education sales tax.
A “yes” vote means that a system or systems representing a majority of the students in a county could call a penny sales tax vote and that by default, school systems would split such a sales tax proportionally by student population,
A “no” vote means no change: school systems would have to come to agreement on any referendum and on how to split the money.
Details in SR 95.
Referendum B, sale tax for some homes for people who are mentally disabled
A “yes” vote means, nonprofit homes for folks who have mental disabilities can get a property tax break, even if those homes are financed by private entities.
A “no” vote means no change: the law would remain ambiguous.
This is a clarification of an existing law, and passed the Legislature with almost no opposition.
Details in HB 196.
Election Day is Nov. 6 but early voting is already underway.
Official state writeup of each statewide ballot question
A sample Fulton County absentee ballot — which lists referenda in Atlanta plus Fulton cities