Georgia voters rank water quality among the state’s most urgent concerns, with a large majority willing to pay increased taxes if it meant cleaner water, according to a new statewide poll.
Asked about major concerns, Georgians place clean water behind only education and crime/drugs in importance -- ahead of such issues as Social Security, health care and taxes. In addition, voters want governments to work together to solve water quality problems, and 70 percent would willingly pay higher taxes for it.
The poll was conducted last month following a landmark recommendation from the Clean Water Initiative Task Force, organized by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Business Coalition. The task force proposal, calling on 16 metro counties to collaborate on regional solutions to metro Atlanta’s mounting wastewater and stormwater runoff problems, will go to Gov. Roy Barnes and the General Assembly for consideration.
"These poll findings confirm that Georgians recognize the gravity of our state’s water quality problems," said Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. "And significantly, they want governments to work together to solve them."
Statewide, 53 percent of Georgia voters believed "local governments should be required to work together to manage stormwater and wastewater problems"; another 34 percent said "the state government should step in and take responsibility." Only 10 percent of respondents -- and just 8 percent in metro Atlanta -- advocated leaving water quality solely to individual local governments to manage.
The Clean Water Initiative proposal would create, through state legislation, a 16-county Metro Atlanta Water Planning District responsible for the policy, planning and intergovernmental coordination involved with managing the region’s stormwater and wastewater concerns. The proposal calls for a governing board of elected officials and citizen members from the business, conservation, technical and academic communities; enforcement would come from the state Environmental Protection Division, through denial of growth-related water permits.
State lawmakers would have to approve new legislation for key aspects of the plan to be implemented. It was built on recommendations of business leaders, local elected officials and conservationists on the panel, over more than four months of study.
The poll, conducted for the Metro Atlanta Chamber and drawn from telephone interviews of 500 registered voters statewide, carries a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Pollster Beth Schapiro said the consensus for higher taxes, if necessary to solve Georgia’s water problems, was noteworthy.
"It is rare for a political poll to find the public willing to pay higher taxes for anything," said Ms. Schapiro, president of Beth Schapiro & Associates. "But statewide, 84 percent of Georgians said they were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the water quality in their area."
Asked how much they would be willing to pay in increased taxes for better water quality, 38 percent said $1-$5 monthly, 16 percent said $6-$10, 5 percent said $11-$15 and 11 percent said $16-$20. Just 25 percent of voters said they would not be willing to pay any additional taxes.
Ms. Schapiro noted the poll is the latest in a growing number of similar findings; another survey conducted by her firm last January, for the League of Conservation Voters, also found widespread concern over environmental issues.
SOURCE: Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce