Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide for a reduction in the state’s operating costs by allowing the General Assembly to authorize certain state agencies to enter into multiyear rental agreements?
The charter school question is getting all the hype on the Nov. 6 ballot, but there’s another amendment for voters to consider — one that involves taxpayer dollars.
Georgia residents will be asked to vote up or down on whether to allow the state to enter multiyear leases for office space.
The issue has drawn a vast number of political and business supporters.
Amendment 2 would lower rental rates and create “more certainty for the budget planning process,” said Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
“While state government operations stay in any one location an average of nearly 11 years, current law requires that the lease be renegotiated every year,” Clark said. “This leaves the state vulnerable to annual rent increases and prevents it from negotiating the lower rates typically agreed to for longer terms.”
He added: “It is simply common sense to allow the state to take advantage of the cost savings enjoyed by business, especially when there is confidence that state operations will remain in a particular location for longer than one year.”
The State Properties Commission, headed by Gov. Nathan Deal, has estimated that if passed, this alone would save the state more than $66 million in the first 10 years.
Asked how that number was arrived at, Paul Melvin, spokesman for the Georgia Building Authority, said the commission “took approximately 350 leases from around the state and analyzed what kind of savings there would be from one-year leases to multiyear leases.”
According to the state’s online Building, Land and Lease Inventory of Property, Georgia has 31 leases in Hall County.
The highest amount the state is paying is $461,179 on Department of Labor offices at 2748 and 2756 Atlanta Highway. The state pays an additional $44,058 in utilities on 29,372 square feet of space. The landlord is Gateway Development Services.
“Presently, landlords charge the state more per square foot because we can only enter into the one-year lease,” Melvin said. “If we’re able to do the multiyear leases, then obviously the paperwork and the number of staff hours it takes to redo leases would be reduced.”
The state has about 1,800 leases statewide, and the total rent statewide is about $400 million, he said.
“Amendment 2 has bipartisan support, and Gov. Deal believes (it) is a smart, common-sense solution for Georgia taxpayers,” said Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman. “It’s more economical for the state to lease existing empty space at a lower rate instead of spending additional funds to build new ones.”
The estimated $66 million in savings over 10 years could “instead be used toward education or public safety,” Robinson said. “It could pay the average salary for more than 1,300 teachers or police officers in Georgia.”
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, whose budget task force recommended multiyear leases as a way to save taxpayer dollars, has said he believes “many routine budget items, like the leasing of office space for government workers, can add up quickly. In this economy, every penny counts.”
Amendment 2 has its critics, such as Tom Crawford’s Georgia Report and state political observer Peach Pundit.
A major concern is that long-term leases invite potential corruption. Another concern is whether savings will pan out like the ballot’s wording (“a reduction in the state’s operating costs”) says it will.
Cagle said passing this amendment will not extend occupancy.
“Instead, it will simply lower the amount paid for leased space already in use. This will help keep real estate costs much lower and save taxpayer dollars.”
Plus, he added, “This is a safe and fiscally sound approach that is working in many other states.”