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Ga. lawmakers pass $900 million transportation funding bill
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ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers approved a transportation funding plan late Tuesday night that they said will raise $900 million through changes to the state's gas tax and new fees on electric cars and hotel visits.

The compromise between House and Senate versions of the plan, which now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk, hinged on the amount of excise taxes people would pay per gallon on gasoline, with proceeds dedicated to transportation. Lawmakers set that at 26 cents per gallon, with diesel fuel at 29 cents per gallon and expect it to raise $700 million.

Converting Georgia's existing mix of charges on gasoline to a dedicated tax ensures the revenue will be used for transportation, and the compromise number "meets in the middle" of previous House and Senate versions of the bill, House Transportation Chairman Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, said.

Deal, other Republican party leaders and the state's business community deemed a transportation package the session's top priority before the legislative session kicked off in January. A study committee recommended $1 billion was needed just to maintain Georgia's existing roads and bridges — and far more would be necessary to upgrade or expand infrastructure of all types.

The pressure-packed debate has engaged and occasionally upset wide varieties of Capitol onlookers, from anti-tax organizations to local school districts. After the House vote, Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, credited members with a "tough" vote.

"I acknowledge that," Ralston said. "This General Assembly was tasked with doing what other general assemblies have kicked down the road, and they met that challenge tonight."

The compromise was announced around 9 p.m. Tuesday, the penultimate day of the session. By law, the General Assembly's session runs 40 days. Lawmakers are not in session Wednesday and must adjourn by midnight Thursday.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, criticized the rush before voting no.

"It cannot be denied that what is before you is a massive tax increase," McKoon said.

A variety of other changes help make up the total, including:

— A new $200 fee on electric vehicles.

— A new $5 per night hotel or motel fee.

— A new fee on heavy trucks, $50 or $100 annually, dependent on weight.

— The elimination of the state's generous $5,000 tax credit for new purchases or leases of electric cars after July 1. Supporters had hoped to have the credit phased out.

— The elimination of a tax break on jet-fuel purchases at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The break had benefited one of the state's largest companies, Delta Air Lines, and other airlines.

The proposal also lets local governments continue to collect local taxes on gasoline sales, but caps the maximum price per gallon at $3 to calculate those fees. In addition, the bill sets up a complicated process for counties and regions to impose additional local taxes for transportation needs with some limits on how much they can charge.

The state budget also approved Tuesday includes $75 million in bonds for transit agencies. Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta and House Democrats' leader, said local governments could address transit under the compromise proposal.