House Bill 170, the General Assembly’s plan to pump $1 billion annually into highway infrastructure, was greeted with a hail of opposition from local governments. The initial plan basically was to steal the local portion of the sales taxes on fuel and force local governments to take a two-step process to recoup those funds. Local governments could simply vote to install a 3-cents-a-gallon local excise tax but would have to go to the voters to get an additional 3-cents-a-gallon tax that might make their budgets whole. While state lawmakers could say, with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, that they were not raising taxes, they were in fact forcing local governments to take on the hard sell of convincing their constituents that an additional tax was necessary.
Monday, the House Transportation Subcommittee met and decided to make a few changes to HB 170. Under the new proposal, counties would be able to levy a 6-cents-a-gallon excise tax without going to voters, but while the local tax being collected goes into the various counties’ general funds, the money collected would have to go to local transportation projects -- and local lawmakers would still take the heat for raising taxes. This version of the bill, featuring changes suggested by the Association County Commissioners Georgia, does nothing to help other taxing authorities: school boards. When they pass an education local option sales tax, some of those funds come from sales taxes (which will go away under the plan) on fuel.
Local governments and school boards have a right to look at this proposal with a jaundiced eye. Just this week it was reported to the Houston County Board of Education that the last state proposal in 2012 that made changes to the collection of title ad valorem taxes has cost the district about $400,000. That law was supposed to be revenue neutral, and Houston schools Comptroller Stephen Thublin told board members, “I didn’t see it then, and I definitely don’t see it in the future, even offsetting our ad valorem, and that’s before the loss that we’ve experienced in our local option sales tax.”
There is also some confusion. The proposal also levies a $200 annual fee on non commercial alternative fuel vehicles and $300 for commercial AF vehicles. One part of the proposal says those fees would go into the general fund, while another part of the proposal says, “It is the intention of the General Assembly that all revenue obtained from the fees assessed on alternative fueled (electricity, natural gas, propane) vehicles ... shall be dedicated to funding public transit in this state.” As has been proven time and again, the state’s “intentions” are not to be trusted.