Rep. Sam Watson

ATLANTA – A plan to devote millions of state dollars to parks, trails, wildlife habitat, hunting lands and other public green spaces has found broad support under the Gold Dome.

Two measures, sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie, cleared the state Senate with unanimous votes on Tuesday.

Together, the proposals would initially set aside about $20 million from sales tax paid on outdoors items, such as fishing poles, camping equipment and diving gear. Dedicated revenues could later grow up to $40 million.

Georgia voters would be asked to weigh in on the idea this fall, since the funds would be constitutionally dedicated.  

Voters rejected a similar ballot question two decades ago, but that proposal called for a new tax on real estate transfers. This plan relies instead on diverting revenue from an existing tax.

The money could be used to buy property, but Watson has said the initial focus should be on tending to what the state already owns.

“We’ve got a lot of state resources already out there,” Watson said recently. “And a lot of them need upgrading and renovating, so one of the goals in this was to make sure that we take care of what we’ve got on the books first.”

Local governments, state agencies, nonprofits and others would propose projects for funding. A new board of trustees and state Department of Natural Resources would decide how the money is spent.

The measures must go back to the House for approval, but there doesn’t appear to be any opposition.

“In the last 30 years, Georgia has more than doubled in population,” Sen. Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, said. “It’s more important than ever that we invest in conservation of our natural beauty and our lands.”

 

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