Regionalism In Georgia – By Matt Roy (AFP Policy)

May 22, 2013

What is “Regionalism”? – Regionalism is a state imposed layer of regional government over several local/city governments. States promote this idea as a way for neighboring counties and cities to work together to solve problems and implement larger cross-county initiatives.

Regionalism in Georgia – House Bill 1216 of 2008 reorganized the Department of Community Affairs and divided the state into 12 regions, each ruled in part by a commission. The officials serving on the regional commissions are a mix of appointed and elected officials. This legislation calls for the county commission chair and one mayor from each county in a region to serve on the commission. The other members of the regional commission or council are appointed as follows:

.One school superintendent and two non-governmental appointees are selected by the governor
.One non-governmental appointee is selected by the Lt. Governor; and .One non-governmental appointee is selected by the Speaker of the House.

House Bill 277 of 2010 modified the structure of the regional governance system in that there are now 12 special districts and 36 regional councils managed by the Department of Community Affairs. These regional commissions have the taxing and eminent domain authority over the counties in their area. They also function as the regional planning entity for land use, environmental conservation, transportation, and historic preservation. Most of the controversy surrounding these regional councils stems from a proposed transportation project and corresponding sales tax increase.

Problems with Regionalism

Regional commissions:
– are not accountable to the voting citizens in the counties they preside over
– can impose local taxes on counties for the purpose of funding projects in other counties in that region (wealth redistribution)
– infringe on the authority and power of local governments specifically granted in Georgia Constitution “Home Rule” (Article IX, Section II)
– add another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to Georgia’s government

Sustainable Development – Sustainable development is another facet to regionalism. Because regional councils can supersede more localized governments, the fear is that appointed commissioners on regional boards can implement those kinds of schemes without much opposition or oversight. Several websites link regionalism to sustainable development and smart growth initiatives.

Conclusion – Regionalism adds a 4th layer of government to the local-state-federal system that lacks accountability to the people. Pro-regionalists argue that the amalgamation of local governments creates “economies of scale” within the governing system and would aid counties in solving larger problems. This doesn’t seem to pass muster. When has more or bigger government ever resulted in an efficient outcome?

The commissioners who comprise these regional bodies are not directly elected to their positions and have power over elected local officials on several issues. These councils are often expensive, over-bearing bureaucracies that lack a clear purpose and justification. Regionalism, as a concept, is problematic at best and detrimental to the strength of representative government that is efficient and accountable to Georgians.

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