Politics & Government

Transportation bill means higher fuel taxes for local governments, schools

Local governments and school systems are paying more in fuel taxes because of a new law that went into effect this month.

The change in fuel taxes, part of a $1 billion transportation bill aimed at addressing lagging infrastructure across the state, impacts almost everyone buying gasoline in Georgia.

The bill that went into effect July 1 not only has led to more taxes for consumers at the gas pump, but state and local governments are seeing their costs rise by about 11 cents more per gallon, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Macon-Bibb County’s price to buy gasoline jumped about 9 cents a gallon and 11 cents a gallon for diesel, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

Last year’s consumption of 1.15 million gallons of gasoline and diesel would have cost Macon-Bibb an extra $117,000 had the tax been in place then, Floore said.

“I think it’s something we’ll monitor closely over the year,” he said of the higher price.

Macon-Bibb’s government has a contract with Mansfield Oil Co. that went into effect July 1. It includes a set price of $2.36 per gallon of gas and $2.55 per gallon for diesel. Those costs include the new tax.

“One of the benefits of the fixed contract is we know how much the price will be,” Floore said.

Before this month, local governments paid combined state sales and excise taxes that were about 15 cents per gallon lower than they are now. The total fuel taxes paid by individuals and businesses were higher -- 24 cents per gallon of fuel, according to the Department of Revenue.

The new law replaces the state sales tax with a 26 cents excise tax -- paid by local governments, individuals and businesses.

On top of the 26 cents, individuals and businesses (but not governments) also pay 7 cents of local sales tax on each gallon. That comes to 33 cents per gallon.

George Brannen, public works director for Warner Robins, estimates his transportation costs across various departments will rise anywhere from 9 percent to 15 percent this year.

Some of the fluctuation could be due to a change in the number of vehicles in the fleet, but the tax has had an impact, he said.

For example, there’s been a 9 percent jump in the street department’s fuel budget as it went from $137,000 last year to $150,000 this year, Brannen said.

The new law also removed fuel tax exemptions for school buses.

In Houston County, the school system likely will spend about $140,000 more in transportation costs this year, said Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent for finance and business operations.

“To be honest, it’ll reduce the money we can put into the classroom,” Thublin said. “The safety of our children is important, but (the tax is) just an additional cost we were hoping to avoid.”

Since the beginning of the month, the Bibb County school system has seen its price per gallon increase about 12 cents over last year’s costs. Bibb schools did not say how much more money it might cost the district this fiscal year.

The massive transportation bill has numerous components including a cap on how high gas prices can go before local governments stop receiving additional sales taxes, a new $5 nightly hotel fee and a new registration fee for vehicles depending on their weight.

For some Middle Georgia county and city government employees, there haven’t been many details given to them regarding what the new tax means for their fleets.

Houston County purchasing agent Mark Baker said he spoke with the county’s fuel distributor several weeks ago, but as of Friday afternoon was waiting to learn what the change means for the county.

“We pay certain taxes, and certain taxes we’re exempt from,” he said. “I’m not sure how (this new law) affects us. It’s pretty complicated for fuel taxes.”

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.