Editor’s note: Story updated Wednesday morning with new information since the reinstatement of the state’s gas tax.
If you head for the gas pump today, expect to pay more than last time.
The state of Georgia started collecting its 29.1 cents-a-gallon sales tax on motor vehicle fuels from gas distributors at midnight Wednesday, 10 months after dropping the tax to ease the sting of climbing prices.
Restoring the fuel tax could push the price per gallon well above $3 again, although experts don’t expect prices to immediately jump everywhere.
Stores will still be selling untaxed gas they received during the suspension, while stations with larger profit margins can absorb more of the added cost as the tax is reimposed, said Patrick De Haan, senior petroleum analyst for Gas Buddy, which tracks fuel prices nationally.
The stations that have the lowest margins are likeliest to pass along most or all of the tax, he said.
Metro-wide information wasn’t available Wednesday morning, but some stations had been quick to boost prices. A BP on Claremont Road in Decatur, for example, had gone from $2.79 to $2.99 overnight. A nearby Citgo had also added 20 cents a gallon to its price.
On Tuesday, AAA reported the average cost of regular unleaded fuel in Georgia was $2.81 per gallon. The average in metro Atlanta was $2.76, up 2 cents from Sunday, according to Gas Buddy.
In March, with inflation and gas prices spiking, the General Assembly approved a law that allowed Gov. Brian Kemp to suspend the gas tax through May.
When legislators approved the law, the average price of a gallon of regular fuel in metro Atlanta was $4.28. Gas prices have fallen in recent months, but Kemp continued to extend the suspension — until last month, when he announced the state would resume collecting the tax on Jan. 11.
The suspension cost the state — and saved drivers — $150 million to $170 million a month. Kemp said last month that motorists had saved more than $1 billion since the tax was suspended.
That’s money the state won’t be able to spend on road and bridge construction — the gas tax is dedicated to that purpose. But Kemp has pledged to make up the difference with the extra revenue the state has been collecting through other taxes this year.
Benefiting from its relative proximity to the many refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, Atlanta’s gas prices have historically been below the national average, and that will continue, even with the return of the tax.
The U.S. average is currently about $3.27 a gallon.
In the Southeast, gas prices in Atlanta — at least for the moment — are lower than most of the region’s other metro areas. On Tuesday, Columbia, South Carolina, was averaging $2.99 a gallon; Birmingham, Alabama, $3.06; Charlotte, North Carolina, $3.08; Jacksonville, Florida, $3.24; and Miami, $3.30.
In the hours Tuesday before the tax was reimposed, the cheapest gas in metro Atlanta was at a Sam’s Club in Snellville: $2.45 a gallon. At the other end of the spectrum, a handful of stations were charging more than $3.40 a gallon.
During the past year, gas prices have been the most visible example of inflation, siphoning spending money from households and provoking a campaign by the Federal Reserve to slow the economy.
The tax returns at a time of the year when there are typically fewer car trips and gas prices are typically dropping. Prices historically start rising again in spring as more drivers take to the road and refineries retool to produce summer blends of gas.
And while summer storms in the Gulf of Mexico can send prices jumping, the biggest impact on pump prices is the global price of oil.
A year ago, metro Atlanta averaged $3.15 a gallon for gas, but that was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February shook supply chains and sent oil market speculation soaring. Average gas prices in metro Atlanta hit a record high of $4.54 a gallon, with many stations charging more than $5.
The spike for diesel fuel was even worse.
The Biden administration for a time siphoned millions of barrels from the nation’s oil reserve. That was a modest help, and as production pumped up through the fall, prices dropped.
Average metro Atlanta gas price per gallon
Early Wednesday morning: $2.81
Wednesday evening: $2.89
Month ago: $2.92
Year ago: $3.15
Peak: $4.54 (June)
Source: Gas Buddy