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Amendment Two: 'The other amendment'

State wants OK to sign long-term leases — don't let 'em



In addition to addressing the controversial question of state approval of charter schools, Georgia voters will be asked to decide what might be the most boring referendum that's appeared on ballots in some time.

Currently, the state can only rent office space on an annual basis. Amendment supporters say that unpredictability causes Georgia to miss out on cheaper, multiyear rental rates and flummoxes budget writers who must grapple with fluctuating lease prices.

The State Properties Commission, the agency which oversees Georgia's real estate portfolio, says that passing the amendment and allowing multiyear leases would save taxpayers more than $65 million over 10 years. Leases could not last longer than 20 years and must first receive approval by the SPC's seven-member board.

Supporters say state departments could rent more space rather than taxpayers footing the bill for new buildings. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce calls it a "common sense solution to a real issue." State Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Savannah, the proposal's sponsor, says the change would allow Georgia to run "more like a business." He even dangled the prospect of state departments seeking cheaper rent outside of Atlanta, which must be music to the ears of struggling downtown restaurateurs.

The legislation, while seemingly innocuous, fails to provide enough safeguards to protect the public from insider deals. Three of the commission board's seven members are appointed by ... the governor, lieutenant governor, and the House Speaker, not exactly the poster children of ethics. Two other board members are bureaucrats who can be hired and fired by the governor, who chairs the group. What's to stop state officials from signing an overpriced, 20-year lease for office space owned by the governor's cousin or the House Speaker's fraternity brother?

The state should understand by now that, judging from elected officials' well-recorded coddling of campaign contributors and buddies, the public can't trust public officials to resist such temptations. Gov. Nathan Deal was plagued during the gubernatorial contest by allegations that he misused campaign funds. Since taking office, he has appointed allies and supporters to cushy state jobs and board positions. Just last week the AJC reported a state land deal overseen by the State Properties Commission benefited Deal's former campaign chairman.

If the measure is worth pursuing, then supporters should go back to the Gold Dome, fix its faults, and try again. Vote no.

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