Pain at Georgia gas pumps

Pain at Georgia gas pumps

April 30th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Georgians and the many others who drive through the state already feel the pinch of higher gas prices. The bite on the pocketbook will become even deeper on Sunday. The price of gasoline across the state will increase by at least 3 cents and as much as 6 cents a gallon when the state gas tax automatically increases. There's little likelihood of a reprieve.

Gov. Nathan Deal says he understands the pain the tax increase will cause, but says the remedy is not an executive order to freeze the tax rate, but legislative action to change the law that triggers the increase. He is correct.

Still, the automatic increase in the state gas tax coupled with the rapidly rising price of fuel is a double whammy for Georgians. If they want to stay on the road, they have to dig deeper to pay the price. The only alternative is to park their cars and trucks, which most can't do, or to seek other means of transportation. The later is a viable option for only a certain segment of Georgians. Public transportation - primarily city or county trains and buses - operate in only a few communities in the state on the scale necessary to significantly reduce dependence on personal transportation. The governor and legislators should turn their attention to that shortage.

Georgia, like many states, has spent the last few decades building more and more roads to connect more and more suburbs to urban centers. That policy produced growth but at a significant cost. According to national reports, some Georgians, particularly around Atlanta, spend far more time in their cars commuting than the average American. Those who do so will pay a considerable premium in coming months to stay on the road.

Georgia's gas tax is 7.5 cents per gallon, plus an additional amount that is based on price. The formula to determine when and how much the tax increases is based on a complicated matrix that requires an upward adjustment when the price of gas rises more than 25 percent. As anyone who fills up a car or truck knows, fuel prices have met that criterion in recent months. That rise in retail prices at the pump prompted the automatic increase in the state tax.

Georgians will pay about 3 cents more per gallon in state taxes. Actually, the tax on a gallon of gas will increase more than that. The federal gas tax remains static, but local governments will add their own sales taxes to the state increase. The result, economists say, is that most Georgians will pay about a nickel or more per gallon beginning Sunday.

Legislators should resolve the problem of ever escalating state gas taxes that are piled atop rapidly rising gas prices. They can amend or eliminate the current law. And while they are at it, representatives and senators should shake the influence of road-building and oil lobbyists and significantly increase funding for public transportation. In the long run, doing so will pay off in fewer cars and trucks on the road, less pollution and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. That would be a true service to all Georgians.