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Transportation funding bill revised to calm critics
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ATLANTA — Republican leaders on Monday previewed changes to a bill aiming to raise $1 billion to maintain Georgia’s roads and bridges.

They were hoping to placate county and city officials unhappy with their initial plan to raise half that dollar amount by eliminating locals’ share of the sales tax on gasoline.

The original bill set off a firestorm of protests from officials in Hall County’s governments.

According to officials, who fired off a letter to state lawmakers, Hall would lose $5.2 million a year, and Gainesville will lose $1.1 million, if the bill passes, and property tax increases might be needed to recoup lost revenues.

“I think there’s a better way, a better legislation out there,” Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said Monday night at the City Council work session.

The new plan hinges on switching Georgia’s gasoline taxes to an excise tax, which is constitutionally dedicated to the state’s transportation needs. Local government representatives said that will leave them scrambling to cover large holes in budgets for cities, counties and school districts.

Gainesville Councilman Sam Couvillon said state lawmakers are still passing the buck.

Local government receives a share of the sales tax but would not receive any of the excise tax.

The original proposal allowed cities and counties to approve up to 3 cents per gallon each in excise taxes, plus up to an additional 3 cents each by referendum. That has now been dropped from the package.

Instead, sponsoring Rep. Jay Roberts said local boards can vote to add up to 6 cents per gallon in excise taxes on top of the state’s planned 29.2 cents per gallon. Municipal officials would have to agree to spend the money on specific transportation needs, with their share determined by a formula already in use by the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Roberts, an Ocilla Republican.

Roberts said the changes will “hopefully” close the gap for some local government agencies but acknowledged there may be cities or counties receiving less under the proposal.

“I think that everybody is going to have some skin in this game before it’s over with,” Roberts told reporters.

Describing the changes as disingenuous, Couvillon said he feared gasoline would cost more in the city than anywhere else in the county if local governments move to recoup lost revenue with an additional tax.

Couvillon added that he supports transportation funding, but wants state lawmakers to take responsibility for any tax increase.

The changes unveiled Monday before a House subcommittee also would eliminate the state’s $5,000 tax credit on electric vehicles. Roberts said that would generate about $45 million to be put toward a bond package.

A separate bill to eliminate the credits had already been proposed in the House. Supporters of the program have instead proposed decreasing the maximum write-off during several years while expanding the alternative-fuel vehicles eligible for it. They argue an abrupt end to the program will stall Georgia’s strong electric vehicle sales.

The bill now moves to the full House Transportation committee, which plans to meet on Thursday.

Local government agencies have joined some Senate Democrats and some conservative, anti-tax organizations in opposition to the package. Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston all have urged legislators to address Georgia’s transportation needs this session, arguing it is essential to the state’s economic future.

Jeff Gill and Joshua Silavent contributed to this report.

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