GMA’s six policy committees met during GMA’s 2019 Mayors’ Day Conference and hosted more than a dozen General Assembly members, departmental officials, and subject matter experts who touched on current and expected issues of interest to Georgia city officials.
In the Municipal Government Policy Committee meeting election security, equipment and access considerations were discussed in detail along with an overview of the finding of GMA’s Municipal Incorporations, Deannexation and Credit Ratings Task Force. Legislators gave their thoughts on possible legislative items that may impact cities in 2019, and federal opportunity zone funding was discussed in-depth. Sen. Greg Kirk, chair of the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee, Rep. Barry Fleming, chair of the Elections Subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver participated in the meeting.
Sen. Renee Unterman addresses city officials during the joint meeting of GMA's Public Safety and Community Development policy committees.
New House Ways & Means chairman Rep. Brett Harrell and new House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Jay Powell were introduced in the Revenue and Finance Policy Committee meeting. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, also participated. Discussion centered on state and local sales tax, including legislation and court action intended to require sales tax collection on Internet transactions in Georgia. Online sales tax collections are expected to bring in over $230 million in 2019. The Georgia Department of Revenue’s new authority to contract with third party vendors for data analytics comparisons of tax streams to identify tax fraud was discussed as well. Where implemented, these data analytics tests have produced significant results; in Georgia, the estimated amount of identifiable tax owed is over $750 million.
Attendees in the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee heard an appeal from Georgia’s water planning districts for more participation and continued support from city leaders. New water runoff standards for development that go into effect in December 2020 were introduced and discussed. A representative from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division gave an update on the department’s legislative priorities for 2019, highlighting the need to reauthorize both the state’s Hazardous Waste Trust Fund and Solid Waste Trust Fund. Changes in the global recycling market and Metro Atlanta landfill capacity were also discussed. The chairs of the Senate and House environment committees, Rep. Lynn Smith and Sen. Tyler Harper, provided updates in the meeting. Both committee chairs put emphasis on the rollback of the federal Waters of the U.S. rule and Georgia’s new Outdoor Stewardship Fund, which will make available grant dollars for local government use in obtaining land for conservation and recreation.
Columbus City Manager and GMA Transportation Policy Committee Chair Isaiah Hugley addresses city officials.
Discussions in the Transportation Policy Committee brought to light concerns that the funding formula for the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants program may need an overhaul in order to more precisely target congestion and capacity building across the state. Investment in mass transit in Metro Atlanta and mobility solutions for rural areas were also discussed. Sen. Brandon Beach and Rep. Kevin Tanner, chairs of the House and Senate transportation committees, were present along with representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation. “Before you look at where you’re going,” said Chairman Tanner, “you have to look at where you’ve been. With the creation of the Atlanta Transit Link (ATL) last year, we are now looking at non-metro-Atlanta transit solutions.”
The Community Development and Public Safety policy committees met jointly this year. A representative from the Atlanta-Carolinas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which is funded through the White House Opioid Response Strategy, presented an overdose mapping tool available to local governments. An overview and background information on the numerous lawsuits facing opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers was presented by an attorney involved in the litigation. Georgia’s affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI GA) provided information into the connection between drug abuse and mental illness, and updated members on GMA and ACCG’s partnership with the group to develop solutions. Updates on several study committees were also given. After the opioid and mental illness discussion, short-term rentals of lodging accommodations and shared transportation devices (e-scooters, e-bikes) were touched on, including an update on GMA’s Working Group on Electric Scooters and current discussions with industry partners on model legislation. Senate Science and Technology Committee chair Sen. Renee Unterman, Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting chair Sen. Matt Brass, and Rep. Spencer Frye participated in the meeting.