Addressing Georgia's critical transportation infrastructure need has been a priority for lawmakers under the Gold Dome throughout the 2015 legislative session.
With the recommendations from last year's Critical Transportation Infrastructure Joint Study Committee, which I co-chaired with Rep. Jay Roberts (R - Ocilla), we knew coming into this session that without new strategies for transportation funding, our roads would erode into disrepair and new infrastructure developments would come to a standstill.
Both of these are incredibly important factors when Georgia is competing for new investment and business expansion opportunities.
Earlier in the legislative session, the House introduced House Bill 170, The Transportation Funding Act of 2015.
Sponsored by Rep. Jay Roberts (R - Ocilla). HB 170 provides a mechanism to generate the funding needed to improve our roads and bridges.
Included in the House's version of the bill was a 29.2 cents-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline, a $200 user fee for private electric vehicles and removing the $5,000 state tax credit for those purchasing electric cars.
Since HB 170 passed the House and made its way to the Senate, my colleagues and I have tirelessly worked on reviewing their proposal, while weighing our options on how to generate funding for transportation improvements in the most fiscally responsible way.
After much deliberation in the Transportation Committee and on the Senate floor, we passed the Senate's version of HB 170 on March 20.
The version includes:
• A 24 cents-per-gallon state excise tax on gasoline and diesel - this is reduced from the 29.2 cents-per-gallon included in the House version of the bill and transfers $167 million from the general fund to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
• A $5 rental car fee per day.
• A $200 annual user fee for electric vehicles and $300 for commercial electric vehicles.
• Creating a cap for local cities and counties to collect a 1 percent sales tax on motor fuel - up to $3.39 per gallon - with no restrictions on how local officials may use money collected through those initiatives.
• Offers a $250 million annual payment to GDOT, subject to appropriations from the General Assembly, to help offset the debt payments currently coming off the top of the motor fuel fund.
However, the House needs to approve the Senate changes before HB 170 can be sent to the Governor.
A conference committee will likely be appointed to form a compromise between both versions of the bill.
My fellow legislators and I remain committed to Georgia's taxpayers, and we intend to address Georgia's transportation issues as responsibly as possible.
Funding transportation is not a new problem, and it is not a metro Atlanta problem. It is a problem that extends to all corners of the state.
HB 170 will positively impact all sorts of transportation infrastructure, from county roads to the busiest of interstates.
The Senate also passed HB 76, the FY 2016 general appropriations budget. The increase in state funds from $20.8 billion in FY 2015 to $21.8 billion in FY 2016 is proof of a growing economy and allows our state to reinvest in the areas hurt most by the recession.
The Senate version of HB 76 funds insurance benefits for 22,000 part-time school employees and their families, and also includes substantial increases in K-12 education across the state.
It is very likely a conference committee will be appointed to work out differences between the two versions of the bill.
Once a compromised version of the bill is settled, it will provide funding for the operation of the state government, including departments, boards, commissions, the university system and other state funded organizations.
As the final days of session are quickly approaching, I encourage anyone with questions or comments to contact my office at any time. I will be happy to talk with you and address any concerns you may have.
As always, it is an honor and a privilege to represent District 51 at the Georgia State Capitol.
Sen. Steve Gooch serves as Majority Whip of the Senate Majority Caucus. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.