Stickers blaming President Biden for high gas prices cover this Acworth fuel pump. A bill aimed at reducing fuel prices by cutting the state gas tax is on its way to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
This story was updated at 10 p.m. Friday, March 18 to reflect the governor signing the bill into law.
A plan to temporarily suspend Georgia’s motor fuel tax in the wake of sky-high gasoline prices was made official Friday afternoon with Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature.
Both the Senate and House unanimously passed the bill. It will be in effect until May 31, when the governor will have the option to renew the suspension.
Georgia’s gas tax is 29.1 cents per gallon for gasoline and 32.6 cents per gallon for diesel.
Georgia’s pump prices have dipped slightly in recent days but remain near record highs. A gallon of regular gasoline set the average Georgia driver back $4.24 on Thursday, down from $4.26 on Wednesday, but the same gallon of gas would have cost $2.73 this time last year when the pandemic still curtailed travel below past years.
If the bill were in effect Thursday, Georgians would pay about $59.25 to fill a 15-gallon tank rather than $63.60.
“The 29 cents is not going to completely solve the suffering of our citizens, but it’s a start, and it’s a statement,” said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Rome Republican and sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “And we will have to fill it in with the rainy day fund, but it’s raining a big storm on our citizens right now.”
The suspension is projected to cost the state treasury between $300 and $400 million.
The bill received support from both parties, but the discussion in the Senate chamber was far from bipartisan, as Republicans sought to pin the blame on gas prices on President Joe Biden and Democrats tried to deflect it.
“I also believe we should all come together during a war and leave politics out if it weakens our United States,” Hufstetler said. “But I also have to point out that the Keystone XL pipeline would have transported 830,000 barrels, over double what we were importing from Russia. It was canceled on day one of the Biden administration, and the developer gave up in June of last year. Dakota Access Pipeline has had court fights ordering it shut down and has been in a constant fight. It’s hard to finance these companies when they’re worried about the long term.”
Atlanta Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock begged to differ. The White House only controls drilling on federal lands, Orrock said, and oil companies decided on their own not to drill.
“I applaud the comments of the chair, that our conflicts on domestic issues should end at the shores, and we support our president and his leadership on the questions facing the globe around Ukraine. Putin’s ravaging that nation, illegally and unlawfully, from his autocratic perch over there in the Kremlin, we should all continue to be on the same page, backing our president. That is a time honored approach in this country, and I urge us all not to step across that line of seeking to make political capital against the administration on the question of Ukraine and this global crisis that has been fomented by a man named Putin, someone that we’ve seen lifted up and elevated and praised by the former president, if people will recall.”
Gas prices have been rising along with other consumer goods before the Ukraine invasion, said Cumming Republican Sen. Greg Dolezal, which he said is due to Biden’s “radical left” policies.
“This is the response, in large part, if not most part, to fiscal policy and energy policy, both of which are being driven by the radical left,” he said. “I support this legislation, but I’m concerned that it won’t be enough, because this legislation ends in May, and I have zero confidence that this administration will get this problem under control by the end of May.”
Decatur Republican Sen. Emanuel Jones decried the tenor of the debate, but he also got in some jabs at the other side.
“What was supposed to be a simple, bipartisan bill really turned into the radical right trying to make and score political points with something that we all wanted, and that is trying to save money for the average Georgian. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost sight of that, because I heard mentioned the Keystone Pipeline that’s owned by the Canadians. They failed to mention that that pipeline, three quarters of it’s already been built, stretching down from Canada, Alberta, all the way down to Illinois. They also failed to mention that the XL portion of that pipeline, which hasn’t been built, the oil is still being shipped down in those refineries in Texas by trucks.”
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan did not weigh in on the partisan debate, but he did express gratitude when the vote was tallied.
“On behalf of 11 million Georgians, thank you,” he said.
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