Capitol Recap: Kemp suspends motor fuel tax, giving Georgians break at the pump

Gov. Brian Kemp has suspended the state's motor fuel tax, which will save drivers 31.2 cents a gallon for gasoline or 35 cents a gallon for diesel fuel.  (Arvin Temkar /



Gov. Brian Kemp has suspended the state's motor fuel tax, which will save drivers 31.2 cents a gallon for gasoline or 35 cents a gallon for diesel fuel. (Arvin Temkar /

Savings amount to 31.2 cents per gallon for gas and 35 cents for diesel

The state has the money, so it will be picking up a share of your expenses for motor fuel.

Gov. Brian Kemp, as he has done before, suspended the state’s tax on gasoline and diesel fuel.

So, if you rely on your own internal combustion engine to get around, that means a savings of 31.2 cents per gallon of gas — 35 cents if it’s diesel.

“Suspending the gas tax is a way to get that money back in the pocket, or at least keep it from coming out of pocket, of hardworking Georgians, small business people like yourself, but also Georgia-based families,” Kemp said this past week at a tourism conference on Jekyll Island.

Kemp can only suspend the tax one month at a time, so the tax break, for now, will run through Oct. 12. But he can renew it on a monthly basis — as he did several times last year while running for reelection — and he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he expects the suspension to run into 2024.

Once the General Assembly returns in January, Kemp said he and lawmakers will “have conversations about where to go next, if anywhere, whether we keep it going or do something else.”

Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies cut oil production earlier this summer. That, in combination with soaring summer demand, drove down supplies and boosted prices.

While the U.S. is the world’s leading producer of crude oil — and the nation is expected this year to hit an all-time high in oil production — it’s responsible for less than 20% of total production, not enough to make a great impact on global prices.

A forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts oil inventories will decline by nearly a half-million barrels per day in the second half of 2023, so prices will likely rise through the end of the year.

Georgia, however, is faring better than other parts of the nation.

AAA reported on Tuesday that the average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. was $3.83. In Georgia, the price was $3.57.

At this time last year, when the state was not collecting the motor fuel tax, Georgia drivers were paying $3.24 per gallon.

Suspending the motor fuel tax costs the state — and saves drivers — $150 million to $180 million a month. Kemp said Georgians saved $1.7 billion during the previous suspension, which ran from March 2022 to this past January.

The money pays for roads and other transportation projects, but Kemp and lawmakers previously backfilled the lost revenue with excess tax money that the state collected.

The state shouldn’t have a problem doing that again.

The AJC reported in July that the state ended fiscal 2023 on June 30 with a surplus of more than $5 billion in tax revenue. It was the third big annual surplus in a row, and in the previous two fiscal years, Kemp returned money to Georgians in the form of income and property tax rebates and, through much of 2022, a suspension of the motor fuel tax.

Insurers fail to prove they are complying with state’s mental health parity law

Georgia legislators last year voted to require insurance companies to cover mental health care at the same level they do for physical health care.

That came after the federal government enacted a similar measure in 2008.

A new report to the state’s insurance commissioner shows that not a single insurer who operates in Georgia has proved it’s complying with either law.

“Until this report, we didn’t know what the insurers were doing. So now we have a baseline. And we’ve got a long way to go,” said Whitney Griggs, a senior policy manager at Georgians for a Healthy Future, a group that pushed for the changes.

The report — which was sent in August to Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and state House Speaker Jon Burns — shows that none of the 28 insurers in Georgia who are required to prove they are treating mental health the same as physical health provided sufficient information, meaning they’re potentially violating the law.

It also shows that an additional 24 insurers did not respond to the department’s call for information. Several hundred companies, such as life insurers, were found to be exempt from the requirement.

Mental health care is a critical issue in Georgia, which ranks low nationally on most measurements and high in the percentage of residents who face challenges.

The state Insurance Department says it will press insurers for information. Legislators also have planned ongoing discussions with Georgia Insurance Commissioner John King, said state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat and co-sponsor of the state’s parity law, House Bill 1013.

Advocates who lobbied for the law expressed frustration with the lack of information provided by companies and the state.

“If they aren’t going to be providing the data, then we have no basis to assume that anything has changed in connection with getting better and more timely access to behavioral health care,” said Roland Behm, a board member of the Georgia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

State Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican, said it’s important to get more information so the Legislature can determine what to do next.

“We need to see if there’s something that we need to tighten up with legislation to help (insurance companies) understand it,” Watson said. “Or if we need to provide sanctions (for noncompliance), which certainly I would not want to do, but they need to get us the data so we can make some reasonable recommendations.”

Democrats face trouble from left flank over public safety training center

Some cracks are appearing within the state’s Democratic ranks, as activists say that liberal voters are being taken for granted.

Much of the division centers on Atlanta’s proposed public safety training center.

The first fissures surfaced with the muted response from some of the city’s top Democrats following Republican Attorney General Chris Carr’s move to indict more than 60 activists on racketeering charges over their efforts to block the training center’s construction.

The divide has widened with the city’s refusal to verify tens of thousands of signatures on petitions seeking a public vote on the project.

Some are threatening to punish Democrats at the ballot box — not just in this fall’s local elections, but next year’s race for the White House and statewide contests in 2026.

“As voters, we are not going to forget,” said Mary Hooks of the Movement for Black Lives, one of the chief organizers seeking a referendum on the training center. “I think it’s going to be hard-pressed for us to continue to show up for Democrats in this state when they continue to turn their back on us.”

Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, said Atlanta’s elected leaders are “betraying basically every single organization” that helped elect them.

“Instead of Atlanta Democrats allowing voters to decide, they are using voter suppression tactics to silence over 110,000 constituents ahead of a very hard 2024 presidential cycle,” Holley said. “This is a slap in the face to voters and those who worked hard to get Democrats elected and and (it’s so) politically dumb.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is a favorite target of the liberals for his work in securing an 11-4 City Council vote that allowed the $90 million project to move forward.

But Democratic U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both Atlanta residents, have also drawn derision for trying to straddle both sides of the issue. Each raised concerns about the arrests of people linked to protests, but they have not directly opposed the training center’s construction.

“I think the choice between public safety and justice is a false choice and not one that we have to make,” Warnock said recently. “I support law enforcement, I support the right of people to have their voices heard in this conversation. I’m going to do everything I can as a U.S. senator representing the people of Georgia to make sure the people are safe.”

A voter heads to a booth to cast her ballot. The state this past week completed its latest round of canceling voter registrations, this time making nearly 189,000 people ineligible to vote unless they re-register. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

State cancels nearly 189,000 voter registrations

About 2,700 Georgia voters got the message by either responding to notification letters that election officials sent out this summer or updating their registration information in time to avoid cancellation as part of a process the state goes through every two years.

Nearly 189,000 did not after the state announced plans in July to expunge them from the voter rolls, so they would have to re-register if they want to vote in Georgia in the 2024 presidential election.

The state thinks that if they do vote, it will probably be somewhere else.

Of those canceled, 55% of them were inactive because election mail sent to their address was undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service, according to the cancellation list the secretary of state’s office made public.

The remaining 45% were inactive because they filled out a change of address form.

Georgia conducts mass voter registration removals every other year in an effort to keep the state’s voter rolls up to date.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the cancellations contribute to making Georgia “No. 1 for election integrity.”

Voting rights groups say the cancellations, which they call “purges,” can disenfranchise legitimate registered voters who haven’t actually moved.

The 188,802 registrations that were canceled in this round represent about 2% of the state’s slightly less than 7.9 million registered voters.

It’s hardly a high-water mark.

In 2017, Georgia removed a record 534,000 registrations at once after outdated registrations had accumulated over the previous years.

Almost none of the registrations that were canceled this year fell under Georgia’s “use it or lose it” law, which removes registrations of people who haven’t participated in elections for several years. Court cases and changes to state laws delayed “use it or lose it” cancellations until 2025.

Under Georgia law, voters can be declared “inactive” when they appear to have moved out of the state, or five years after they last voted or contacted election officials. Then their registrations are voided if they miss the next two general elections.

Georgia voters can verify their registration information online at

Georgia lawmakers to play significant parts in impeachment proceedings

Four members of Georgia’s congressional delegation have significant roles to play now that U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has directed three of the chamber’s committees to formally begin an impeachment investigation into President Joe Biden concerning his son Hunter’s business dealings.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — who pushed hard for the impeachment investigation, making it one of her conditions for voting for any spending measure to avoid a looming shutdown of the federal government — sits on the House Oversight Committee, one of the three panels that will lead the inquiry.

“I want to see a very deep dive — a detailed investigation — no matter how long it takes,” the Rome Republican said.

Greene added, “It may go all the way to the November (2024) election.”

Democrats have cast the investigation as an effort to tarnish Biden as he runs for reelection.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia called the investigation “just a distraction from the fact extreme MAGA Republicans are unable to govern.”

He and Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath both hold seats on the House Judiciary Committee, another panel that is heading the probe.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-The Rock, is the other Georgian who will be involved in the review as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

A map shows Trail Ridge, the area along the eastern boundary of the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge where an Alabama-based company wants to open a mine for titanium. Opponents fear the mining could harm the swamp, home to hundreds of species, including some that are endangered. Image Okefenokee Protection Alliance

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Ossoff asks state to reject plan to mine near Okefenokee

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is urging state officials to block a plan to mine titanium that he says threatens the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The swamp is considered environmentally crucial. It’s the home to hundreds of species — some of them endangered — and holds millions of tons of peat deposits that prevent huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere.

The Okefenokee is also important to southeast Georgia’s economy, drawing more than 700,000 tourists a year.

Ossoff and others are concerned that all is at risk if an Alabama-based company is allowed to extract titanium from a 580-acre tract of Trail Ridge, an inland sand dune complex that forms the eastern boundary of the swamp.

Twin Pines Minerals has said repeatedly that its analyses show that the swamp’s fragile ecosystem will not be hurt by its plan to dig a 50-foot-deep pit and pump thousands of gallons of groundwater.

But environmentalists and a prominent hydrologist from the University of Georgia, Rhett Jackson, say the mine will lower water levels in the swamp and increase the risk for wildfires.

Scientists with the National Park Service have also questioned Twin Pines’ claims, writing that the hydrology modeling used by the company “obfuscates the true impacts from mining on the refuge.”

Ossoff, speaking at a fundraiser hosted by the Georgia River Network, a nonprofit that protects waterways statewide and opposes the mine, said there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the mining plan does not meet the state’s standards.

The state Environmental Protection Division received more than 77,000 public comments concerning Twin Pines’ proposal during a two-month period after it was released in January.

EPD spokeswoman Sara Lips said the agency has asked Twin Pines to “clarify” some items in its mining plan. Once those are received, Lips said the EPD will determine whether additional information is needed and respond publicly to the comments and technical feedback it has received.

Political expedience

  • Vice president to visit Morehouse: Vice President Kamala Harris, undertaking a monthlong tour to mobilize young voters at universities across the nation, will visit Morehouse College on Sept. 26. In all, Harris will visit about a dozen campuses in seven battleground states to highlight policies addressing abortion rights, climate change, gun safety and higher education.
  • Travel plans for Jones: Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones plans to hit the road this fall with Democratic state Sen. Sonya Halpern of Atlanta to travel to several historically Black colleges and universities in Georgia. Jones said in a statement that he and Halpern could collaborate on legislation during the General Assembly’s upcoming session to boost Georgia’s HBCUs. The two plan stops at Albany State University, the Atlanta University Center, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University.