Georgia has been buzzing over a charter school amendment on the Nov. 6 election ballot, but there’s another referendum few appear to have noticed.
“It’s pretty obscure as far as I’m concerned,” said Charles Bullock, University of Georgia Professor in legislative and Southern politics. “It really hasn’t broken through in terms of people showing interest.”
The referendum asks voters if the state constitution should be amended to “provide for a reduction in the state’s operating costs by allowing the General Assembly to authorize certain state agencies to enter into multi-year rental agreements.”
Currently, these agencies can only enter into one-year contracts. That’s not practical, said District 24 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Cumming.
“You’ve always heard that government should operate more like a business. What business is forced to only sign leases one year at a time?” he said. “If you only lease one year at a time, you can’t lock in savings or make deals, so it’s really a negative requirement.”
Dudgeon is not alone in his support of the measure, which he said could save the state $66 million over the next 10 years by allowing agencies to better negotiate contracts. He’s backed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a number of other organizations.
In fact, it’s the widespread support and lack of funding behind opponents of the measure that might be why few people have even heard of the measure, Bullock said.
“There’s a fair amount of money behind the charter school effort and a lot of it is coming from out of state. There’s also a mobilized reaction from the state school board and a lot of school systems that are concerned about that,” Bullock said. “But on the other [referendum], I don’t sense that there’s much movement behind it, or opposed to it.”
Dudgeon agreed, saying strong, organized opposition “makes all the difference, and this one isn’t really that controversial.”
There are some dissenters to the referendum, however. While the Senate resolution which called for the referendum, SR84, was unanimously supported in the Senate, 14 representatives voted against the measure during the House vote in which 146 representatives supported it.
The main argument behind the dissent is the potential for corruption. Some legislators were concerned that sweetheart deals would be made between officials and businesses currying favor.
With an extension from one to as many as 20 years, it could lock that agency into a bad deal, Dudgeon explained.
But he added said that’s more of a fear than a reality.
“There are lots of safeguards,” Dudgeon said. “The new long-term leases have to be run through the governor’s office, reports are issued and there’s audits done, and so there’s lots of protective mechanisms that would help expose that if it’s happening.”
With more than 10 percent of Forsyth County residents having already voted, the county elections supervisor, Barbara Luth, said there haven’t been many questions over the referendum from voters. There are printed sheets at each polling place with additional information on the referendum, issued by the secretary of state’s office.
Luth said for those who haven’t done the research ahead of time, “some will leave them blank,” but a lot of people in Forsyth who’ve voted during the past two weeks have done their homework, Luth said.
“I haven’t had a lot of people ask questions about our referendums,” she said.
As to whether or not the referendum passes, it’s all about trust, Dudgeon said.
“It boils down to a trust issue, and right now we know there’s a serious trust problem with a lot of voters and anybody who does anything with government,” Dudgeon said.
“So in theory, that can cause a problem. But at the same time, they want us to save money and they want us to do business-like operations, so clearly signing a multi-year lease is a reasonable thing to do.”