Georgia Senate gives final passage to gas tax suspension

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia senators gave final approval Thursday to a measure suspending state fuel taxes to bring down sky-high gas prices.

After the 55-0 Senate vote, House Bill 304 now heads to the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp, who is expected to sign it into law on Friday.

The measure would suspend the 29.1 cents-a-gallon motor fuel tax through May 31. Based on previous years’ collections, the move would save drivers more than $300 million in taxes. Kemp said the loss of revenue would be made up with surplus state funds.

Kemp can extend the suspension if gas prices remain high, senators said.

“The 29 cents is not going to completely solve the suffering of our citizens, but it’s a start and it’s a statement,” Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, told colleagues. “I think most everybody in Georgia will be grateful for this.”

The average price of a gallon of regular fuel in metro Atlanta on Thursday was $4.28, higher than the crest reached in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to GasBuddy, a fuel-tracking service.

State Sen. Michael Rhett, D-Marietta, told fellow senators he filled up his vehicle Thursday morning and it cost about $100. State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said his son spent $165 to fill up his diesel truck.

The price of crude oil has dropped, but that hasn’t yet been reflected at the pump.

“Hopefully this will bring some much-needed relief,” said Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta. “My concern is whether the relief is actually going to get to the consumers.”

Hufstetler said the state will be watching closely to make sure gas stations pass the tax cut along to consumers. He said they could be fined $15,000 for price gouging if they don’t.

It won’t be felt immediately throughout the state since stores will be selling gas they received prior to the suspension and paid taxes on. Lawmakers said it would take some time for the untaxed gas to make its way into the pipeline.

Politicians in both parties have staked their positions to suspend gas taxes at both the state and federal level.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who, like Kemp, is up for reelection this year, has made his proposal to suspend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax until 2023 a staple of his message on the campaign trail.

State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, called on state lawmakers to back Warnock’s effort in Congress.

“Let’s all band together, let’s push for federal relief on taxes at the pump,” Orrock said.