- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia House leaders on Wednesday introduced a plan they said funnels $1 billion toward maintaining the state’s roads and bridges by dedicating fuel taxes to transportation. The package also would create an annual fee on alternative-fuel vehicles and provide the first state funding for mass transit, at least for one year.

Republican Rep. Jay Roberts of Ocilla plans to introduce the bill Thursday, for consideration by a committee and the House. It would then require Senate approval.

The central strategy would convert Georgia’s combination of sales and excise taxes on fuel to a 29.2 cent-per-gallon excise tax. Republican leaders said the change would be “neutral” for drivers because the amount was calculated using a four-year average price for filling up: $3.39 per gallon.

The package would create a new $200 annual fee for alternative fuel vehicles, with the exception of hybrids. Mass transit systems in Georgia would have access to a combined $100 million in bonds next year. Lawmakers would have to approve similar support in future state budgets.

A study committee last year gave lawmakers multiple options to support transportation needs, including a 1-cent sales tax or increasing the state motor fuel tax. But some conservative lawmakers have expressed opposition to anything that looks like a new tax or fee.

Local government associations already expressed concern Wednesday with the package, arguing cities’ and counties’ $500 million share of the sales tax on gas would be lost to the state. The package would allow local officials to increase their local excise tax on gasoline and dedicate that money to transportation projects.

“They’re taking what used to be local revenue and giving us the ability to replace it, but obviously the locals have to have the political will to replace it,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

Another potential issue is the $175 million hole created in the budget under a portion of the plan shifting that money to transportation. Roberts said that will be part of the budget discussion this session.

Until Wednesday, Georgia’s top leaders had given no indication of how the state should fund its transportation needs. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston have only pushed lawmakers to “do something” at various appearances.

Ralston repeated that message on Wednesday.

“We welcome constructive discussion and debate, but the time to begin the process is now,” he said. “Doing nothing on this important issue is not an option and there will be no better time than we have now.”

Deal also called the proposal a strong starting point in a statement.

“I am committed this year to passing legislation that will provide for Georgia the transportation infrastructure it needs to keep our people and goods moving efficiently throughout the state for the next generation,” he said.

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