In an era of divisive politics and amidst a gubernatorial race that’s no exception, protecting Georgia’s natural resources might be the one thing voters can agree on this Tuesday. If approved, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment (Amendment 1) would provide a dedicated source of funding to conserve Georgia’s lands, protect the state’s waters, and support local and state parks—all without raising taxes.
Amendment 1 would reallocate a portion of the already existing sales tax on outdoor sporting goods for a period of 10 years. This fund—at least $20 million annually, for a total of $200 million by 2028—would support Georgia conservation efforts without creating any new taxes or fees. Outdoor stewardship projects have usually been funded by an annual appropriations process under the gold dome. “Some years, there was good support for these kinds of projects, and other years, not so much. It fluctuated,” says Georgia Conservancy President Robert Ramsay. “That’s why having a dedicated source of funding was attractive to all of us,” he says, referring to the coalition of organizations that have been working 10—and in some cases 20 or more—years to bring an amendment like this to the ballot. Long-term conservation efforts especially benefit from the certainty of dedicated funding. “There’s a difference in what’s possible with projects when you know $200 million is definitely going to go toward land conservation over the next 10 years,” says Michael Halicki, executive director of Atlanta nonprofit Park Pride.
In addition to Georgia’s lands and waters, the state’s $27 billion outdoor recreation industry also stands to benefit from Amendment 1, says Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Chris Clark. “When we talk about the Georgia economy, what we don’t talk a lot about is the eco-economy and the green economy, but manufacturers like Yamaha, or industries like hunting and fishing, all those things drive the Georgia economy and also rely on public lands.”
Other economic perks of the amendment: supporting rural communities, many of which rely on the outdoor industry and tourism, as well as attracting millennials and the next generation of workers, many of whom value access to green space and state parks. For all these reasons and more, Clark says, “It was really a no-brainer to work with the conservation groups on Amendment 1.”
This broad business case for Amendment 1 is certainly part of the reason why it’s enjoyed bipartisan support, with only one legislator voting against the bill and 8 out of 10 voters saying they would vote for the amendment if given the chance. Ramsay comments on the wide-ranging benefits of the legislation saying, “If you like to see critical landscapes conserved, or like to recreate outdoors—or even if you don’t like either of these things, but you breathe air and drink water—this is a good thing for you as a Georgia citizen.”
Still, such broad support for an environmental measure might feel like an anomaly in the current political landscape. “We have to give a little bit of credit to our state,” says Ramsay. “In Georgia, we find that natural resource conservation is not a partisan issue, nor has it been really throughout our history.” Halicki adds, “Georgia has a rich tradition of people enjoying the outdoors. We have a great state from the mountains to the coast and all the places in between, so there’s a lot to connect with what we’re trying to do here.”
The coalition of organizations that have worked for a decade or more to bring this amendment to the ballot certainly hope voters will feel that connection to the state’s lands and waters while at the polls on November 6. “We’re not going to manufacture any more land in the state of Georgia,” says Ramsay, “so we have to find creative and more efficient ways to both use and preserve our land as we move forward. The Georgia Stewardship Amendment provides that opportunity.”