What happens when a life or death issue is raised and put on the ballot but fails? Does the issue go away? Do we continue to look for answers or just accept the failure and retain the status quo?
Last week, Amendment 2 asked Georgians to decide whether they wanted to pay an annual $10 fee on motor vehicle tags to fund trauma care in our state. The amendment was voted down by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
The facts supporting the need to upgrade our trauma system in the state of Georgia are real and hard to ignore.
• The death rate for trauma victims in Georgia is 20 percent greater than the national average.
• The lack of a trauma system network in our state results in more than 700 deaths per year.
• We have only 16 trauma centers in our state but need 25 to 30.
• We only have four level one trauma centers in our state but need more, particularly in southwest Georgia.
With such compelling facts to justify the need for upgrading our trauma system, why did the amendment fail?
While it’s impossible to know why people vote a certain way, many believe that voters are simply fed up with fees and taxes and wanted to send politicians a clear message — stop this madness, no matter how worthy the reason.
Others speculate that the message was not communicated well by those pushing for passage of the amendment. Voters complained that all the amendments were poorly written and hard to understand. One voter that I spoke to said he voted against the trauma amendment because it would have cost him $60 per year to buy tags for his car, truck and four trailers. When I explained to him that it only applied to passenger vehicles and would have cost him $20 per year he replied that had he known that he would have voted for it.
At a meeting last week with other state legislators, I asked them why they thought the amendment failed. Some said that their constituents wanted to see a sunset clause added to the fee since they believed that once it was started it would never end.
Some believed that hospitals were not to be trusted and should not be subsidized for a service from which they would derive a profit.
Surprisingly, some expressed a concern that the money would go to a commission with limited oversight by elected officials — a fact that most legislators felt would help the cause.
Other responses reflected the reality that is often ignored but certainly exists in our state — metro vs. rural Georgia. Some metro voters said that they already had adequate trauma services and the fee would only be used to help rural areas.
Some rural voters expressed the concern that the money would only be used to upgrade the metro facilities, resulting in the demise of rural emergency rooms. In fact, looking at the county returns from a geographic perspective reveals an appalling result — most rural counties in southwest Georgia voted overwhelmingly against the amendment.
While it is important that we listen to the people and do our best to understand what they are trying to tell us, the fact still remains that our trauma system has to be upgraded. So what do we do now?
The super-speeder fine that was projected to help raise $23 million per year for trauma has thus far not come close to that figure, although if people have slowed down, then it has certainly helped.
Some legislators have suggested that the tobacco tax could be adjusted and used for this purpose.
Still others have proposed a total revamping of the car tag taxes to eliminate some fees and add trauma as was proposed a few years ago.
The message from voters is load and clear — no new taxes.
However, regardless of how difficult, an answer must be found. Seven hundred Georgians’ lives a year depend on it.