ATLANTA -- Restoring integrity and helping to clean a growing eyesore in the state. That's what's behind a push to punish lawmakers for dipping into Georgia's Solid Waste Trust Fund.
The bill, passed in the final hours of the legislative session, is now before the Governor waiting for his signature.
Every time you buy a tire, you pay $1 into the fund. The money is supposed to help, in part, clean up illegal dump sites through community grants. But lately, the Environmental Protection Division hasn't had much money to give.
It's not that the fund is empty. In 2009, the state collected more than six million dollars in fees. But only two million went into the fund. Lawmakers diverted the rest to beef up the state budget's bottom line.
In 2010, the state collected $6.3 million, but the fund didn't see a dime. The Association County Commissioners of Georgia says since 2004, of the $69.8 million collected, only $23.8 had gone toward its intended purpose.
"We've been working for years to get a constitutional amendment, which is the only true method by which to actually dedicate these funds. That hasn't been successful," said Todd Edwards, the Association's Legislative Director.
But Rep. Jay Powell, a Republican from Camilla, did help shepherd legislation that would give lawmakers a pretty good incentive to leave the fund alone.
H276, basically reduces the fee consumers pay each year, by the same amount lawmakers take from the fund, potentially eliminating the fee if lawmakers continue to steal from the pot. The idea is if lawmakers aren't going to use the money as intended, consumers shouldn't have to pay it.
Buy a tire, pay a buck. This is the money that's supposed to help clean those illegal dump sites. Now, a bill before the Governor, would reduce the fee - even eliminate it - if lawmakers try to use this money for anything else.
"It restores the trust, it restores transparency," said Edwards.
Lawmakers can bypass the penalty with a joint resolution each year, but Ola Reynolds hopes the measure serves as a reminder to how much the money is needed.
"We're sick and tired of having all these tires dumped in our community," said Reynolds.
She's been fighting illegal tire dumps in her Northwest Atlanta neighborhood for nearly a decade. She lives next to one filled with hundreds, if not thousands of tires.
"They are hurting the environment. Mosquitos in the summer time," said Reynolds.
The mosquitos can spread disease. The tires increase the risk for fires, while decreasing property values. That's why even without the fund, communities have a responsibility to clean up the mess.
"So what we're having to do is raise fees or taxes at the local level to pay for a program that quite frankly the Georgia taxpayers thought they already paid for," said Edwards.