by Victoria Knight
Since Georgia legalized fireworks in July 2015, the state has received almost $2 million from the sale of Roman candles, fountains, and other pyrotechnic displays.
For every dollar that’s spent on these explosives, fireworks merchants and their customers paid 5 percent in excise tax to the state, whether the products were sparklers sold at Kroger or bottle rockets at a pop-up store on Atlanta Highway.
The gardening store next door did not pay this tax: the legislature imposed it specifically on fireworks.
“The fireworks industry for years has wanted access to the Georgia market. Part of the agreement they made to get that access was to agree to paying an excise tax that would be split among three specific groups,” said State Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrolton), one of the sponsors of Amendment 4.
The excise tax money is being funneled into a state treasury account, where it can be spent as the Georgia General Assembly sees fit. Amendment 4 would change that.
If it passes, 55 percent of the excise tax collection will go to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council and 5 percent to local governments for public safety measures, including the improvement of 911 systems.
“Seems pretty straight forward to me,” said Aishah Khan, a first-year Master of Public Health student at the University of Georgia. She’s a registered Georgia voter who had just read the amendment for the first time. “I think it’s saying that any taxes that they put on fireworks goes towards funding public safety endeavors. I think it’s something that I would vote yes for.”
The largest chunk of fireworks tax revenue would go to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, which helps repay trauma centers to cover uncompensated care for people injured in car crashes, severe fires, and other traumatic events. The commission can also subsidize ambulance services.
Dr. Dennis Ashley, chair of the Georgia Trauma Care Network, said that last year, his organization received no funds from the excise fireworks tax. He estimates that it costs approximately 80 million dollars to run the medical trauma care system across the state.
“This [excise tax revenue] will support trauma center readiness costs, enhance emergency medical services, provide trauma related education, and improve the quality of trauma care throughout the state,” said Ashley.
State Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), a practicing physician, supports the amendment.
“The trauma care network is severely underfunded in Georgia. And especially in rural South Georgia, when you get in the time range of one hour or farther away from a trauma center, which can happen,” said Watson. “So, if we’re going to have an excise tax, let’s use it for a positive purpose.”
Dena Abston, executive director of the Georgia Trauma Care Network, said it’s likely that Piedmont Athens Regional, the area’s Level II trauma center, would receive money if the Amendment passes.
“If we were to receive the money, basically everything else would trickle back to the trauma centers. I would say that there would be an increase of funding to Athens, I just would not know how much,” said Abston.
The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council would use the excise tax money to better equip and train firefighters, as well as improve fire protection ratings at departments across the state.
“We’ve got departments which are basically operating on a shoe-string,” said George Henderson, executive director of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council. “They just barely get by and they don’t necessarily have everything they need. A lot of their gear is torn up. It’s got holes in it and doesn’t need to be used. Initially we need to look at those departments, and buy them the things they need.”
Henderson said this money could trickle down to the Athens-Clarke County Fire Department as well, though the department already has a high fire protection rating – especially compared to ratings around the state.
Money from Amendment 4 could also go to improve the ACC Police Department Communications Division, which includes the emergency 911 Call Center.
Look for Amendment 4 on the Georgia ballot as: “Dedicates revenue from existing taxes on fireworks to trauma care, fire services, and public safety.”