Originally created 12/20/96

Gas tax increase sought



ATLANTA - The Georgia transportation board voted Thursday to back an 8-cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax to fund road and rail projects, over the objection of Gov. Zell Miller.

Supporters acknowledge that Mr. Miller's longstanding opposition makes winning final approval iffy because the General Assembly and governor must adopt the plan.

"It's very difficult," said former legislator Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, president of Georgians for Better Transportation and a member of the task force that recommended the tax increase.

"We've got some problems, particularly in the Atlanta area, that the governor's got to deal with," said transportation board Chairman Jimmy Lester of Augusta. "It's time to either fish or cut bait.

"I can't predict what the General Assembly of Georgia is going to do, but we want them to know we're facing hard times.

"We're very proud of the job we've done so far, but we cannot continue to do it and meet the future road needs of Georgia with 1971 dollars."

That's the last time the motor fuel tax was increased in Georgia.

Nonetheless, Mr. Miller said Thursday through a spokesman, "My view on tax increases is unchanged and unchangeable."

The governor defeated an effort by the Transportation Department to raise the tax by 5 cents last year.

Task force members say the state's 20-year transportation plan, which identifies $30 billion in capital needs through 2015, is about $12 billion short of funding.

Georgia's gas tax of 7.5 cents per gallon is among the lowest in the nation. Georgians also pay another 3 cents per gallon as a fuel sales tax.

Under the task force proposal accepted by the transportation board Thursday, another 8 cents would be tacked onto the gas tax, making the total bill at the pump 18.5 cents per gallon.

At the same time, the yearly tag fees would drop from $20 per vehicle to $2.

The task force estimated an 8-cents gas tax increase would cost the average Georgia motorist $44 more per year. It would also move Georgia's tax closer to those in neighboring states.

The plan calls for the 8 cents to be split four ways.

Two cents, or about $100 million a year, would be used for local government transportation projects.

Another 2 cents would be dedicated to reducing the state's more than $1 billion in transportation debt and putting the DOT on a pay-as-you-go system.

A third 2 cents would be aimed at alternative transportation projects, such as rail, buses, bicycle paths, aviation and ports.

Using gas tax money for nonroad projects would take an amendment to the state constitution.

The fourth 2 cents would be used for the 10-year-old Governor's Road Improvement Program, a system of 13 developmental highways in rural Georgia.

In total, the 8-cent increase would raise an additional $400 million a year.

Supporters argue that a third of the motor fuel tax is paid by out-of-state motorists driving through Georgia.

"I see this not as a big expense, but as an opportunity to make an investment in the future of Georgia," said trucking executive Robert J. Rutland, chairman of the task force that made the recommendation.