ATLANTA - On Nov. 7, voters will be asked to weigh in on three proposed amendments to the state Constitution and six referendums dealing with changes to the state tax laws. Here is a summary of the issues that will be on the ballot:
Proposed constitutional amendment
1. Eminent domain
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to prohibit the use of eminent domain by certain nonelected authorities and to prohibit the contested use of eminent domain except for public use as defined by general law?
The proposal seeks to limit how eminent domain is used in the state in reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that allowed the government to force landowners to sell their property for a private developer's construction project. The amendment proposal requires city or county governing bodies to approve any projects to condemn privately-owned land for redevelopment. The eminent domain power would be limited only to the types of public projects as outlined by law - typically for uses like building new roads or schools.
Housing and development authorities, which are not elected entities, would have to get the local elected officials, such as city councils or county commissioners, to approve any condemnation project. Any changes to local laws dealing with how city or counties use eminent domain would have to be approved in a referendum among local voters.
2. Hunting and fishing
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the tradition of fishing and hunting and the taking of fish and wildlife shall be preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good?
The proposed amendment is intended to make it more difficult for future lawmakers to pass regulations that threaten existing hunting and fishing laws. Though critics say the amendment is unnecessary because the rights of hunters and fisherman are not being encroached upon, supporters say the protection will become more of an issue as rural areas become more populated and local governments could try to pass ordinances restricting the outdoor activities.
3. License plates
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide for special motor vehicle license plates and dedicate the revenue from such plates for stated purposes, including dedications for the ultimate use of agencies, funds, or nonprofit corporations where it is found that there will be a benefit to the state?
Nonprofit groups could receive money from the sale of specialty license plates, if voters approve this amendment. The proposal allows the Legislature to approve special vehicle plates that include extra fees for specific purposes. Lawmakers would decide whether the additional money made off the plates would go to a state agency, fund or nonprofit for programs related to the plate's message.
Statewide referendum questions
A. Farm equipment
Shall the Act be approved which expands the ad valorem tax exemption for agriculture products and equipment to include certain additional farm equipment held under a lease purchase agreement?
The proposal would allow for a tax exemption on farm tractors, combines and other farm equipment other than motor vehicles if the items are being leased. If voters approve the exemption, it would become effective Jan. 1.
B. Historic aircraft
Shall the Act be approved which expands the ad valorem tax exemption for veterans organizations to include certain additional nonprofit veterans organizations which refurbish and operate historic military aircraft for educational purposes?
This tax break would apply to the nonprofit veterans groups that buy and restore historic military aircraft to put on display for the public. Existing law allows for a tax exemption on property veterans organizations use as their headquarters, post home or similar facilities. If voters approve expanding the exemption, it also would apply to the aircraft refurbishing facilities and would take effect Jan. 1.
C. Charitable groups
Shall the Act be approved which grants an exemption from ad valorem taxation on property owned by a charitable institution which generates income when that income is used exclusively for the operation of such charitable institution?
If approved, the measure would allow 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from federal taxes to not pay state property taxes on real estate or buildings the groups own as long as the facilities are used to generate money that goes to funding the charity.
D. Seniors homestead exemption
Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption for senior citizens in an amount equal to the actual levy for state ad valorem tax purposes on the homestead?
The proposal would give homeowners 65 and older a property tax exemption on their primary house as well as up to 10 acres of land. If approved, the exemption would not apply to local property taxes and would take effect Jan. 1.
E. Deceased public safety officers' spouses
Shall the Act be approved which provides a homestead exemption for the full value of the homestead with respect to all ad valorem taxes for the unremarried surviving spouse of a peace officer or firefighter who was killed in the line of duty?
The widow or widower of a police officer or firefighter would not have to pay property taxes on a home until they remarry. If approved, the exemption would take effect Jan. 1.
F. Home values for widows and widowers
Shall the Act be approved which provides that, with respect to base year assessed value homestead exemptions, the surviving spouse of a deceased spouse who has been granted such a homestead exemption shall receive that exemption at the same base year valuation that applied to the deceased spouse so long as the surviving spouse continues to occupy the home as a residence and homestead?
Some homeowners already qualify for a homestead freeze exemption, which means that even if their property increases in value, they still pay the same level of property taxes. If the person who holds that type of exemption, his or her spouse would continue to receive the benefit if voters approve this referendum.