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Road clears for transportation funding
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

The General Assembly concluded business last week, and while we were in session for just two days, they were very long days in an effort to complete important tasks. The following are some of the bills that were agreed upon by both the House and Senate and have been sent to the governor for his approval.

As you may know, one bill that we spent considerable time debating is the transportation funding bill. Georgia is the transportation hub for the South with Atlanta home to the busiest airport in the nation and Savannah is one of the most industrious ports on the eastern seaboard. Our interstates, including I-75, I-85, I-95, I-16 and I-20 link the country to our state, particularly the Savannah port.

With this incredible increase in traffic on our roadways, which will increase dramatically with the deepening of the Savannah port, we have been unable to sustain our transportation infrastructure. The big question this session was not whether we needed to make improvements, but how we would fund such enormous statewide projects.

Let me state from the onset that paying more taxes is an unpopular solution for all of us. That’s why this funding bill was the best possible compromise to fix a growing problem. There was much debate about switching our current sales tax on fuel to an excise tax. We settled on an excise tax of 26 cents for gas and 29 cents for diesel.

Switching to an excise tax will help us capture tax dollars from long-haul truckers who use our interstates. This will bring in $50 million a year to fund transportation projects. In addition, we have eliminated the sales tax exemption on fuels used by commercial air carriers. In Georgia, the biggest user of aviation fuel is Delta Air Lines.

We have eliminated a $5,000 state income tax credit for the purchase of an electric vehicle and placed what is essentially a user fee for owners of electric vehicles who use the roads without paying taxes through fuel surcharges. The cost would be $200 per year for private electric vehicles and $300 per year on commercial electric vehicles.

We have added an annual user’s fee for very large trucks (like the Ford 450) and 18-wheelers, since their usage has such an adverse affect on our roads. We will be charging a $50 to $100 fee on heavy trucks and big rigs, depending on the vehicle’s weight. The bill also creates a new $5-per-night hotel/motel tax to be applied statewide and it is estimated to fund $200 million a year. Those of us from Savannah were opposed to the hotel/motel tax that was never discussed prior its inclusion in the House/Senate conference committee’s final agreement.

After we were told of the change, we only had an hour prior to voting the bill, which was the culmination of a year’s work. If the bill failed, we would “kick the can down the road” for yet another year and let our transportation infrastructure further deteriorate, which would cost us more money in the long run.

Altogether, the solutions outlined in this bill will raise $900 million annually to pay for our state transportation needs. This bill takes a balanced approach to a vital project that will ultimately contribute to economic growth and quality of life as we keep up with the needs of growing industries and an increase in our population.

Regarding historic areas, HB 308 amends the current definition of a “certified structure” to include historic buildings and structures located in national historic districts or listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Furthermore, this legislation also amends the definition of “qualified rehabilitation expenditure” to include the definition provided in the Internal Revenue Code.

The 2015 legislative session was not just about the difficult issues of budgeting and taxes. After seven years of trying to get the autism bill on the House floor for a vote, it finally occurred last week and it passed unanimously. And after two years of discussions on the medicinal marijuana bill, the House and the Senate finally reached an agreement that will bring long-sought-after relief to many.

As a co-sponsor of both these bills, I am thrilled that some of our friends and neighbors who deal with heart-wrenching day-to-day physical, emotional and financial issues related to several debilitating diseases may now enjoy a better quality of life. In many cases, it will permit families who have been split up in order for children with severe epilepsy to receive medical marijuana in Colorado, to be reunited.

While there are many difficult issues that come before the Legislature that will offend some no matter how one votes, having the opportunity to assist children who suffer with severe health problems is truly one of God’s blessings, and I am truly thankful for having a small role in seeing these bills passed!

This was a challenging legislative session but much good legislation was passed. Thank you for allowing me to represent you. Please know that your concerns and thoughts continue to be important to me. I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at