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Cumming lawmaker views state transportation bill as great step
hamilton
Hamilton

ATLANTA — A massive transportation funding bill that will affect counties throughout the state has reached Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk after it passed in the last few days of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2015 session.

House Bill 170 did not come without controversy and revisions, as six House representatives and one senator, all Republicans and two of whom are members of Forsyth County’s delegation, sought to raise $1 billion in funding to cover maintenance and repair projects on bridges and roads.

The outcome was to appropriate about $900 million in what could be viewed as tax increases, though Deal had said during the session that something needed to be done to address delays in repairing state roads.

The bill, also called the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, will take effect July 1.

“It’s not going to fix the problem. We need a minimum of $1 billion to $1 billion-and-a-half, but it’s a great step,” said District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming.

Hamilton and state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, whose 51stDistrict includes some of north Forsyth, were two of the co-sponsors.

Hamilton said projects have been identified internally. The state Department of Transportation could not be reached to determine when residents will learn specifics of the projects.

“My commitment is that if we’re going to do this, we need to take every dollar that is being generated for transportation and actually spend it on transportation,” Hamilton said. “The best example of that is because currently, the fourth penny at sales tax on motor fuels is going to the general fund. It’s not dedicated.

“But going to an excise tax, we took all of the tax on motor fuel and dedicated it to transportation.”

That’s about $180 million.

Other provisions included in the bill to inch up to the $900 million included eliminating the $5,000 credit for purchasing an electric vehicle and adding a $200 annual fee for electric vehicles — $300 a year if the vehicle is used for commercial purposes.

Trucks will have to pay $50 to $100 a year, depending on size, for their additional wear and tear on roads.

Hamilton said taking away credits for Delta Air Lines and other carriers will rededicate about $23 million a year.

A new provision also added a $5 per night for hotel and motel stays, which he estimated to fund around $150 million to $180 million. Initially, the Senate added a rental car fee, but that was exchanged for the hotel/motel tax after realizing more Georgia residents use rental cars than stay in hotels within the state.

It should all add up to about half of the $900 million, Hamilton said.

The other half will be funded through about a 5-cent increase per gallon and a new motor fuel excise tax of 26 cents per gallon and 29 cents per diesel gallon.

“It’s not perfect, as with all legislation,” he said. “But as I said from the beginning, I was on a similar transportation funding study committee eight years ago, and we all agreed we needed to do something and we didn’t.

“For eight years we’ve been kicking the can down the road … so there’s a problem of deteriorating infrastructure.”