More than two years ago, Georgia voters overwhelmingly backed a ballot question that constitutionally dedicated the revenues from certain taxes and fees to the programs lawmakers originally claimed they were needed to fund.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

Proponents pressed hard for the change, branding their decade-long campaign as a push for “truth in fees” or “anti-bait and switch” or “trust fund honesty.” There was no shortage of slogans, and the cause proved extraordinarily popular with voters when it finally landed on their ballot – nearly 82% of them got behind it in 2020.

As a result, a tipping fee paid on the garbage going into Georgia’s landfills brings in about $12 million every year for clean-up work. 

“Transparency is back,” said Kathleen Bowen, associate director of governmental affairs with ACCG, which advocates for counties at the state Capitol. “The fees are going towards their intended purposes and are going towards the intended trust fund.”

But some fees were left out when lawmakers finished dedicating the fees in 2021 and now there’s a proposal to tack them onto the list of fees going toward the clean up of sites across Georgia that pose a threat to human health and the environment.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, cleared the House last year but stalled when the clock expired on the session. 

“There are so many hazardous waste sites that need cleaning up in the state and the cities and counties need assistance with the funding because it’s extremely expensive to do those cleanups,” said Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Junction City Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.

“We want all of the money to go to the trust fund so we can get all of the sites that are possible cleaned up.”

Specifically, the measure would dedicate the state’s hazardous waste management and hazardous substance reporting fees. Together, the pair of fees drum up about $1.4 million annually, according to ACCG.

That’s still a drop in the bucket of what’s needed just to clean up the 60 hazardous waste sites that are considered abandoned, which would cost an estimated $65 million, according to a state report.

With about 500 hazardous waste sites in the state, nearly every county has at least one. But some areas – like Chatham County, where there are 36 – have significant numbers of sites in need of attention. Even some midsize communities, like Lowndes County where there are 11 sites, have their work cut out for them. 

“The more money we can dedicate for that purpose means that these sites have more resources to get cleaned up,” Bowen said. “It’s very expensive to clean up a hazardous waste site. They can become abandoned, they can become an eyesore. It’s hard to redevelop these properties that are designated on the hazardous waste site inventory. So, it’s very important to just get all the fees that are available to be dedicated for this purpose dedicated.” 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing...