December 2017, the City of Atlanta enacted an ordinance to
annex certain property that lies within the Fulton County
Industrial District. Fulton County filed a lawsuit for
declaratory and injunctive relief against the City and
several of its officers, asserting that the annexation of
property within the District was prohibited by a local
constitutional amendment ratified in 1979. In response, the
City argued that the 1979 amendment was never
constitutionally adopted, that it was repealed in any event
by the adoption of the Constitution of 1983, and that local
laws purporting to continue the amendment are themselves
unconstitutional. The trial court agreed, and it held, among
other things, that the 1979 amendment was enacted in
violation of the constitutional "single subject"
rule. See Ga. Const. of 1976, Art. XII, Sec. I, Par.
The County appeals,  and we affirm.
origins of the 1979 amendment go back at least as far as
1937, when another local amendment was adopted to authorize
the County to levy a "tax for educational purposes"
on property located within the City. See Ga. L. 1937, p. 18.
See also McLennan v. Aldredge, 223 Ga. 879, 881 (1)
(159 S.E.2d 682) (1968). Forty years later, the General
Assembly enacted legislation to call a referendum on whether
the power of the County to levy school taxes within the City
ought to be "terminate[d]." See Ga. L. 1977, p. 1569.
Around the same time, the General Assembly also enacted
legislation to call a separate referendum on whether the
creation of an industrial district in the County ought to be
authorized. See Ga. L. 1977, p. 1567. Although the General
Assembly adopted separate bills to call the two referenda,
each bill provided that its remaining provisions would become
effective only if both referenda were approved. See
Ga. L. 1977, pp. 1567, 1572. Voters approved the referendum
concerning the creation of an industrial district, but voters
rejected the referendum to partially repeal the 1937 school
tax amendment. See Ga. L. 1979, pp. 5245, 5263 (reporting
results of 1977 referenda). Accordingly, no industrial
district was created, and the 1937 school tax amendment
continued in force.
1979, the General Assembly combined the substance of the
earlier legislation concerning the creation of an industrial
district and the partial repeal of the 1937 school tax
amendment into a single, proposed local constitutional
amendment. Entitled "Fulton County-Taxation for
Educational Purposes," most of the provisions of the
1979 amendment relate to the creation of the Fulton County
Industrial District and are virtually identical to the
provisions of the 1977 industrial district legislation. Like
the 1977 legislation, the 1979 amendment purports to
establish the District, set out its boundaries, and provide
that no property within the District could be "included
within the limits of any municipal corporation as now exists
or hereafter incorporated except by constitutional
amendment." Ga. L. 1979, p. 1799. In addition, the 1979
amendment includes provisions about the taxation of
properties within the District and the governance of the
District that are identical to the provisions contained in
the 1977 industrial district legislation, including a
provision that properties within the District "shall be
subject to all taxes for school purposes." Id.
Finally, unlike the 1977 industrial district legislation (but
like the 1977 school tax legislation), the 1979 amendment
includes a single paragraph providing that the County
"is hereby prohibited from levying any tax for
educational purposes" within the City. Id. at
p. 1800. The 1979 amendment was approved by the voters of the
County in November 1979. See Ga. L. 1981, pp. 5395-5396.
Georgia Constitution of 1976 was repealed in 1983, and for
the most part, the Constitution of 1983 did away with local
constitutional amendments. See Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. X,
Sec. I, Par. I. Significantly, however, the 1983 Constitution
authorized the General Assembly to preserve any preexisting
local amendment by legislation, so long as the General
Assembly enacted a local law ratifying the amendment to be
maintained prior to July 1, 1987. See Ga. Const. of 1983,
Art. XI, Sec. I, Par. IV (a). Almost immediately, the General
Assembly passed legislation to continue the 1979 amendment.
Ga. L. 1983, p. 4078. But the notice of intention to
introduce this legislation did not mention the portion of the
1979 amendment dealing with the inability of the County to
levy school taxes within the City. In 1986, the General
Assembly again purported to continue the 1979 amendment, but
this time it erroneously stated that (in addition to creating
the District) the 1979 amendment prohibits the County from
levying a school tax "within the [D]istrict." And
like the 1983 attempt to continue the 1979 amendment, the
1986 legislation did not refer to the levying of school taxes
by the County within the City. See Ga. L. 1986, p. 4438.
lawsuit, the trial court concluded not only that the 1979
amendment was never properly adopted because its enactment
violated the single subject rule, but also that the attempts
to continue it in 1983 and 1986 were defective (meaning that
it stood repealed in any event by operation of the
Constitution of 1983). For the reasons that follow, we agree
that the 1979 amendment violated the single subject rule, and
we need not, therefore, consider the effect of any defects in
the legislation that purported to continue it.
adoption of the 1979 amendment is governed by the
constitution then in force, the Constitution of 1976, which
provided in pertinent part that:
[w]hen more than one amendment is submitted [to the
electorate] at the same time, they shall be so submitted as
to enable the electors to vote on each amendment separately.
A proposal for one or more changes within a single Article
may be submitted as a single amendment. A proposal for one or
more changes within a single Article and a related change or
related changes in one or more other Articles may be
submitted as a single amendment.
Ga. Const. of 1976, Art. XII, Sec. I, Par. I. The County
argues that the 1979 amendment effected changes to only a
single article, and for that reason, it was authorized to be
presented for ratification as a single amendment by the plain
terms of the Constitution of 1976. But in fact, the 1979
amendment worked changes to two articles of the Constitution:
Article VIII, Section VII, Paragraph I, which governed local
taxation for education, and Article IX, Section IV, Paragraph
II, which governed special districts and the powers of local
governments. Accordingly, the Constitution of 1976 permitted
the amendment to be presented as a single amendment only to
the extent that the changes to Article VIII and the changes
to Article IX were "related."
requirement that changes to our Constitution be
"related" if they are to be submitted to voters in
a single amendment is known as the single subject rule, and
it has origins in Georgia that go back over two hundred
years. See Walter McElreath, A Treatise on the Constitution
of Georgia § 75 (1912) (noting that, in the aftermath of
the Yazoo Land Fraud, legislators insisted on a provision
within the Constitution of 1798 that "[n]o law or
ordinance shall pass containing any matter different from
what is expressed in the title thereof"); see also Ga.
Const. of 1798, Art. I, Sec. XVII; Lutz v. Foran,
262 Ga. 819, 825, n.2 (427 S.E.2d 248) (1993) (Sears-Collins,
J., dissenting) (noting that "Georgia was the first
state to adopt a constitutional title and single-subject
requirement," and that the requirement "had its
genesis in the notorious Yazoo Land Fraud"). The single
subject rule has long applied to statutes, and beginning with
the Constitution of 1877 (Article XII, Section I, Paragraph
I), it has been applied to constitutional amendments as well.
The rule for constitutional amendments was carried forward
into the Constitution of 1945 (Article VIII, Section I,
Paragraph I), the Constitution of 1976 (Article XII, Section
I, Paragraph I), and the Constitution of 1983 (Article X,
Section I, Paragraph II).
the single subject rule has been stated in varying terms over
the years, it long has been understood to prohibit the
combination of provisions concerning "incongruous"
or "unrelated" subject matters in a single
legislative act or constitutional amendment, Whitley v.
State, 134 Ga. 758, 776 (68 SE 716) (1910), in order to
"inhibit the passage of . . . 'omnibus' or
'log rolling' bills." Central R. Co. v.
State of Ga., 104 Ga. 831, 846 (4) (13 SE 531) (1898).
Indeed, we have held that the standard set by the rule
"has been in use since at least 1902." Perdue
v. O'Kelley, 280 Ga. 732, 733, n.4 (632 S.E.2d 110)
(2006) (citing Welborne v. State, 114 Ga. 793 (6)
(40 SE 857) (1902)). That standard requires courts to
determine "whether all of the parts . . . of the
constitutional amendment are germane to the accomplishment of
a single objective." Wall v. Bd. of Elections of
Chatham County, 242 Ga. 566, 570 (3) (250 S.E.2d 408)
(1978) (applying single subject rule as provided in the
Constitution of 1976 and citing Carter v. Burson,
230 Ga. 511, 519 (3) (198 S.E.2d 151) (1973)). Certainly, it
is permissible for the objective, or subject matter, of an
act or constitutional amendment to be broad, and the General
Assembly may include in a single act or constitutional
amendment "all matters having a logical or natural
connection." Purdue, 280 Ga. at 734 (citation
omitted). See also Central R. Co., 104 Ga. at 846
(4) ("What the constitution looks to is unity of
purpose."). Nevertheless, application of this
"germaneness test" "requires identification of
the subject-matter or objective of the amendment,"
regardless of whether that objective be broad or narrow.
Perdue, 280 Ga. at 734.
the County identifies the sole objective of the 1979
amendment as the creation of the District, and it claims that
the paragraph that purported to partially revoke the 1937
school tax amendment promoted this sole objective by
clarifying the tax burden of properties within the District.
But we fail to see how a provision that would prohibit the
County from levying a school tax anywhere within the City has
anything to do with the District, given that the 1979
amendment itself provides that no portion of the District
ever could be within the City (or any other municipality). In
fact, the second paragraph of the 1979 amendment clearly
states that properties within the District are subject to
taxes for school purposes. No "clarification" of
this provision was provided by the paragraph that purported
to terminate the ability of the County to levy school taxes
on properties within the City, all of which, by the terms of
the 1979 amendment, would necessarily be outside the
District. Simply put, because the 1979 amendment provided
that there could be no overlap between the District and the
City, the taxation of properties in the City did not (and
could not) relate to the creation of the
District.This complete absence of relatedness falls
far short of the relation required by the single subject
rule. As a result, the trial court correctly concluded that
the 1979 amendment was never properly adopted because its
enactment violated the single subject rule of Article XII,
Section I, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution of 1976.
See Sherman Concrete Pipe Co. v. Chinn, 283 Ga. 468,
470 (660 S.E.2d 368) (2008); Black v. Jones, 190 Ga.
95, 97 (8 S.E.2d 385) (1940) ("when the general purpose
of an act is the levying of a State tax on rolling-stores, to
be collected by State officers, for definite State purposes,
and indeed the only specified purpose, how can it be said
that a provision purporting to also give county authorities
the right to levy an additional tax on them is germane to
this general purpose?"). And because the 1979 amendment
was never constitutionally adopted, the annexation ordinance
in question is not barred by the 1979 amendment. The trial
court properly entered judgment for the City on the merits of
affirmed. All the Justices concur, except ...