HB 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB 170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways. These funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. These road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses and create jobs for Georgians.
– Funding for HB 170 come in various ways, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. I agree we need to move to an excise tax on motor fuel so those funds collected can only be used for transportation purposes. The debate is at what rate we set it at per gallon. The State budget increased by $1 Billion for 2016. If the transportation issue is one of our primary concerns, a substantial increase in transportation funding should be earmarked for it instead of the $55 million it received. Increasing motor fuel taxes above the current rates should not be our first idea. For this reason I was unable to support HB 170. It is hoped the bill continues to move through the process where at least we come to an agreement on an excise tax that we can all support which is more revenue neutral and in future years allocate revenue growth dollars to transportation as our economy continues to grow.
– Funding for Georgia’s 128 transit systems will be part of a significant bond package that will create additional revenue for HB 170. This will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This is a practical way to provide more immediate funding, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state.
– The establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. Since these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes for maintenance of roads they use. This fee will provide equality among those who drive on our roads.
– HB 170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel.
– The Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
I also support looking at new funding sources that are being used successfully in other states like P3’s (public/private partnerships). Moreover, in 2014 60 billion pounds of cargo moved through our ports in Savannah, Brunswick and Hartsfield. Buyers and sellers of that cargo moving freight through our ports, perhaps should share in the burden of maintaining our roads. Many of these buyers and sellers already receive large tax incentives from the state. What good are ports if you cannot efficiently move freight to and from the ports? The trucking industry continues to bear the brunt of the cost of supporting our infrastructure, maybe buyers and sellers should contribute as well. I think it is a conversation worth exploring.
The easy way to fix the problem is to simply raise the price at the pump for all Georgians. However, we need a solution that is going to incorporate a balanced approach of dedicating current revenue streams to transportation, allocating future tax revenue growth to transportation, exploring new funding sources and cutting wasteful spending throughout our state budget. I think all Georgians could vote for that!
HB 190 requires drivers in transportation network companies,such as Uber and Lyft to have appropriate auto insurance. Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal auto policy, which does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. There are gaps in the insurance coverage because personal policies will not cover any damages or losses if a vehicle is being used for commercial use, which puts both the driver and passenger at risk. HB 190 addresses the differences in coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless of passengers are on board. It also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage.
HB 325 expands seat belt laws by requiring vans that have 15 passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Currently, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 or less passengers. HB 325 draws attention to this important issue, and will make drivers and passengers on Georgia’s roads more aware of the need to buckle up.
House Bill 210 allows Georgia citizens to qualify for organ donation by utilizing state issued I.D.cards. Currently, organ donor status is only listed on drivers’ licenses. HB 210 makes it so more people can become organ donors, regardless of their eligibility to drive in Georgia. It is important that we encourage public education and awareness of the value and life saving ability of organ donation.
The House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 allows schools to obtain/stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB 362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma is very common and schools should be prepared to help handle these types of emergencies.
Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. First Lady Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, which was written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program. Mrs. Deal is making a great commitment to our state’s youth through this campaign.
This week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz. Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an eight-time All Star and the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves, was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Next week will be an extremely busy week. March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. We will work diligently every day to pass legislation through the House chamber. I hope that you will contact me during this important week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office. The number is 678-438-7181. I look forward to hearing from you.