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Changes to state transportation tax bill unlikely
Despite 2 bills attempting to make changes, lawmakers say 2015 law likely to remain same
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State lawmakers from Hall County believe there is little chance changes will be made this year to the transportation tax bill that will fund Gov. Nathan Deal’s 10-year, $10 billion plan to improve Georgia’s roads and bridges.

“I think we need to wait at least a year to see how much actual revenue it generates,” Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said.

There has been talk of adjusting the funding formula since the bill was passed last year and took effect on July 1.

The bill eliminated the state fuel sales tax at the gas pump and enacted a 26-cent excise tax. It also created a $200 fee on electric vehicles and a $5 per night fee on hotel and motel stays.

The tax is expected to generate $757 million more in fiscal 2015-16 in transportation funding and $820 million in fiscal 2016-17, officials have said.

Two bills have been introduced in the legislature this year to repeal the $5 fee on hotel/motel stays and exempt local governments from the fuel taxes. 

The $5 fee has been particularly controversial.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the costs need to be spread more equitably across major industries.

“Last year’s 11th-hour addition of the fee on lodging did not fully take into consideration other facets of commerce and industry that could potentially help share the financial burden,” she added. “With more government fees and taxes on lodging, Georgia could soon price itself out of business in the tourism industry.”

Rogers said he understands this concern and would have supported a tax on the purchase of tires to help raise money for projects.

Meanwhile, the local exemption would save Gainesville taxpayers close to $70,000 in regular and diesel fuel taxes, which is what the city paid in the last six months of 2015.

Hall County paid nearly $84,000 during that same timeframe.

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said he understands the frustration some taxpayers have with the tax.

“Why don’t we get it right the first time?” he asked rhetorically.

But Dunahoo also acknowledged that funding is needed to improve the state’s transportation network.

“We have to have money for infrastructure,” he added.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, agreed.

“If it will benefit the transportation system and Georgians, then, yeah, I think it’s valid to look at it and reconsider it,” he said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to keep our eyes focused on the target.”

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, a top floor leader for Deal, said talk of reform is premature and that the chances changes are made in 2016 are “somewhere between slim and none.”

“These people are talking about changing the formula even before it’s been fully implemented,” he said.

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