What is the "Infrastructure Development District" (IDD) amendment, and what will it do if passed? That depends on who you ask.
Each side, of course, says that the other is lying. In order to judge who is telling the truth, you must ask yourself, what does this person have to gain by urging me to vote this way or that way?
Those who oppose this amendment, myself included, generally have nothing to gain, and nothing to lose in terms of economics. All that I hope to gain, and all that I fear will be lost, are the following:
* The most valuable intact habitat for black bears in central Georgia will be reduced to residential subdivisions. This habitat is also important to many other animals and plants, some of which are endangered or threatened.
* People who are duped into buying property in these "private cities" will not realize that they are selling themselves into virtual serfdom, surrendering their rights to a say in how their "taxes" are spent.
* Counties unfortunate enough to have a "private city" set up within their borders will be forced to inherit the nightmare of overpopulation, insufficient infrastructure, and environmental and economic disaster when the "private city" becomes insolvent, as it almost certainly will.
Those who promote the passage of this amendment have much to gain:
* Construction companies support the amendment, and they will benefit from increased business as these unsustainable developments are built.
* Banks support the amendment, as they are financing the purchase of the land and the development projects that will flow in an unstoppable flood immediately after the amendment is passed. Their loans will be guaranteed by the provisions of the amendment which require the developers to pass all costs along to those who eventually buy property in the IDD.
* Chambers of Commerce support the amendment, as their membership will grow, and their existing members will enjoy increased business.
* Landowners who happen to own land that is presently precluded from development by zoning laws and water restrictions support this amendment, because they will be able to sell their land at greatly enhanced prices. This group includes Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who owns a large tract of land adjoining the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area, which will be open to development if the IDD amendment is passed.
As Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, says, "Except for the people that stand to benefit from it, nobody really wants it." The same could be said for any idea, of course, but the only "benefit" here is financial, and the only people in a position to enjoy the financial benefit are the bankers, construction companies, chambers of commerce, and landowners mentioned above. County governments don't want it. Private citizens don't want it. School districts don't want it. County soil and water districts don't want it. The state Department of Natural Resources doesn't want it.
What will this constitutional amendment do?
* Enable county commissions to vote to authorize private developers to levy "assessments" (effectively, "taxes") on the residents of the IDD.
* County commissions have this power without requiring the matter to be approved by taxpayers of the counties.
* There is no "conflict of interest" protection, so that even county commissioners who stand to benefit financially from the IDD can vote to authorize the IDD to collect "taxes."
* IDDs can charge these taxes with no legal limit on tax rates. Proponents say there are prescribed limits within the amendment, but in fact these limitation clauses were deleted from the amendment before it was passed by the state assembly.
* Developers of IDDs will have the authority to issue tax-free municipal bonds, just as if they were a municipal government, but without the transparency of a government and without representation by the "taxpayers."
* Developers of IDDs will be allowed - indeed required - to pass all costs of development on to the purchasers of property within the IDD. There will be no market forces limiting what they can charge, no market pressures for efficiency, and no "taxpayer" input into what development costs will be incurred.
* While there will be resident-controlled governing boards to take over management of the IDD after development is complete, all contracts, and therefore all financial burdens, will be decided independently by the developer before the governing board takes over. The governing board will have no say in determining the terms of these financial obligations, they will simply be required to inherit the burden from the developer, leaving the developer free to walk away with a constitutionally guaranteed profit.
* Developers of IDDs are under no obligation to ensure that the infrastructure of the IDD can be sustained by the resources of the host county. For instance, they are obligated to build water and sewage lines and roads within the IDD, but if the host county is unable to provide the water, to handle the sewage, or to build roads connecting the IDD to outside resources, that it the county's problem and not the developer's.
Proponents say the purpose of the Infrastructure Development Districts is to open up creative new ways to stimulate economic development in the state of Georgia. In fact, if you look a little closer, the IDD amendment appears to be nothing more than a way to get around zoning laws, water resource protection laws, and the rights of the citizens, all to line the pockets of the developers, the bankers, and the lucky (or sleazy) landowners who bought land that could not otherwise be developed.