A gallon of gas at this Atlanta RaceTrac sold for $4.49 Wednesday. The state government is hoping to bring high gas prices down by temporarily eliminating the state gas tax. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
Gas prices in Georgia could be a little less eye-popping as the state Legislature aims to temporarily suspend Georgia’s state tax on motor fuel sales.
“Gasoline prices are going up,” said House Speaker David Ralston. “I mean, this morning, it looked like another 10 cents overnight. That’s hurting Georgians, and this will be some relief for them.”
Georgia’s gas tax is 29.1 cents per gallon for gasoline and 32.6 cents per gallon for diesel. If the bill passes, that portion of the pump price would stay in motorists’ wallets.
The federal government also imposes an 18-cent tax on gasoline. Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has introduced a bill in the United States Senate that would suspend that tax through the end of the year.
“Ordinary families are feeling the pinch, trying to buy gas and trying to buy groceries,” Warnock said in a statement Tuesday. “We ought to cut their taxes, and we ought to hold the oil and gas companies accountable, who are seeing record profits while people are paying record prices.”
The state bill, grafted onto an earlier bill providing a tax credit for medical manufacturers, passed the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, and Ralston said it could come to the House floor Tuesday. If it passes there and in the Senate as expected, it will go into effect upon receiving Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature and last until May 31.
“I think the feeling is that will kind of get us through maybe this time that we’re in, and that was the date that the governor selected, and so I’m good with that,” Ralston said.
The primary election in which Kemp and other state officials will compete is scheduled for May 24.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Georgia drivers were paying an average of $4.16 for a gallon of regular gas, a record high for the state. On Monday, the average rate was $3.88, which is still $1.30 more expensive than this time last year. The metro Atlanta area saw the highest rates at $4.21 per gallon on average, while motorists in the Catoosa-Dade-Walker have the lowest price in the state at about $4.05.
If the bill were in effect Wednesday, the average Georgia driver would save about $4 to fill up a 15-gallon tank, about $58 down from $64.
Analysts point to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the prime factor in driving up crude oil prices, which translate to higher prices at the pump.
Russia exports about 5 million barrels of crude oil per day. In an effort to hamstring the European petrostate’s economy, President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, acknowledging that the action will likely further increase American fuel prices.
“Since Putin began his military buildup on Ukrainian borders, just since then, the price of gas at the pump in America went up 75 cents,” Biden said. “And with this action, it’s going to go up further.”
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Kemp placed the blame for the price squeeze squarely on Biden’s shoulders.
“President Biden took office in January of 2021, and to understand why we are in this current state of record-high inflation and costs to the average American family, people can simply track his first year of misguided policy decisions,” he said.
Last month, the state brought in about $157 million in revenue through its gas tax. The bill does not specify how the state will compensate for that money, but its sponsor, Columbia Republican Rep. Jodi Lott, said the state could dip into last year’s surplus or its revenue shortfall reserve to deal with a loss in revenue from the tax suspension.
“Because of our strong, fiscally conservative approach to budgeting, Lt. Governor Duncan, Speaker Ralston, and I can confidently propose a state motor fuel tax suspension to curb sky-high gas prices while also returning money back to hardworking Georgians through a tax refund and an income tax cut,” Kemp said. “With this latest measure, we are making it even more clear that in Georgia we are going to empower families to keep their money in their own pockets.”
Georgia has suspended its motor fuel tax in the past, most recently last May when a cyber attack crippled Colonial Pipeline, the Alpharetta-based company that provides most of the fuel for the east coast.
The violence in Ukraine that sparked the gas crisis the legislature is aiming to ease has invoked widespread, bipartisan condemnation from state lawmakers.
Shortly after the invasion began, Republican officials pledged to divest any taxpayer money benefitting Russia from the state retirement system. On Wednesday, the state Senate unanimously passed legislation prohibiting companies owned by the Russian or Belarusian government from bidding on state contracts, and the House unanimously passed a resolution condemning the invasion after a passionate speech by Ralston.
“I’m not naive, I realize our action today will not alter the course of events before us, it probably won’t even be read in Washington, but there are some occasions presented to us by fate where it is important to say what should be obvious, and that is to stand with good against evil,” he said.
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.
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