ATLANTA (AP) — A key Senate committee on Tuesday approved significant changes to a bill aimed at raising $1 billion for Georgia's transportation needs.
A House version of the bill converted Georgia's mix of taxes on fuel to a 29.2 cents-per-gallon excise tax dedicated to transportation. Members of the Senate's Transportation Committee lowered that to 24 cents.
The House transportation plan underwent several overhauls between its introduction in January and passage in March. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and GOP leaders of both chambers have backed taking some action on the state's transportation needs this session, with encouragement from the state's business community.
Senate Transportation Chairman Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said he's open to suggestions with a specific benchmark in mind.
"The goal in the Senate is to keep gas prices as low we can, so we're looking to other places to get the money," Williams said.
Those sources include a new $25 "highway user" fee paid when Georgians renew their license tags, a new $5 rental car fee and the elimination of a sales-tax holiday for back-to-school purchases. The Senate plan also moves $250 million annually from the state's general fund to pay off debt service owed by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said that frees up agency revenue for maintenance or capital projects rather than debt service payments. State lawmakers would determine the exact dollar amount each year when voting on the state's budget.
Senators maintained House lawmakers' decisions to end tax breaks for jet fuel purchases by airlines and new electric vehicles purchases, as well as a new $200 annual charge on those cars.
Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, said she worried the combination will put an end to Georgia's success in electric vehicle sales. Butler suggested phasing the credit out rather than ending it this summer.
She joined two fellow Democrats and one Republican voting against recommending the bill.
If the bill is approved by the Senate, House members could accept its changes or members of both chambers could work out their differences in a conference committee. The 40-day session is scheduled to wrap up on April 2.