Next week, the Georgia State Legislature will convene into special session to redraw House, Senate and Congressional districts to conform to the 2010 U.S. Census. The special session is expected to last two to three weeks.
When a governor calls for a special session, he must call for the items to be acted upon in his executive order. While other subject matters can be discussed, only the items called for by the governor can be acted upon during the special session.
Included in the Gov. Nathan Deal’s executive order for this special session is redistricting, as well as ratifying his suspension of the state gas tax increase.
After the census is completed every 10 years, districts must be redrawn to assure that each district contains as close to the same number of people as possible. Because Georgia is still under the Voting Rights Act, once the districts are passed by the Legislature, they must be approved by either the Justice Department or the federal courts to assure that minority districts are not diminished.
Because of the growth in our state since the last census, we will be picking up a new congressional seat, bringing the total number for our state to 14. The seat will be located in the northern part of the state where most of the population growth has occurred.
The other item that will be acted upon during this special session is codifying the governor’s suspension of the gasoline tax that was to go into effect on July 1. While the governor has the right to suspend the tax by executive order, that suspension must be ratified by the Legislature before it can be added to the Georgia code.
Georgia’s state gasoline tax is a two-part tax. First, a 7.5 percent excise tax is charged at the wholesale level and is passed on to the consumer who pays it at the pump.
Second, a 4 percent tax is also charged at the pump. It is calculated twice per year and is based on the average price per gallon of gas in the state at that time. This amount goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2011, and July 1 and stays in effect for the next six months.
However, there are exceptions to this formula. For instance, when the average price per gallon of gas increases by more than 25 percent during this six-month period, as it did on June 1 of this year, an automatic adjustment to the tax takes place. On Jan. 1, 2011, the average price per gallon of gas in the state was $2.534. On June 1, the price per gallon of gas increased to $3.217, constituting more than a 25 percent increase and triggering the automatic increase.
The tax was set to go up on July 1 since the average price per gallon of gas in the state had risen to $3.632.
However, Deal, citing the significant increase in the price of gas since the first of the year, decided to suspend the increase, and now the Legislature will ratify his suspension during the special session.
The converse of this also holds true in that if the price per gallon of gas decreases by more than 25 percent during the six month period the tax is automatically decreased.
Also added to the price of a gallon of gas are local city and county taxes, as well as an 18.4 percent federal excise tax. All total, a gallon of gas in the state of Georgia includes about 47.6 cents in taxes, ranking our state 37th nationally in gasoline tax burden.
And while we understand the gasoline tax is used to upgrade and build roads and bridges, it is concerning that of the total federal gas tax paid by Georgia, only 85 percent is returned to us for use on road projects in our state, making us a donor state in terms of this federal tax.
So as we head back to Atlanta next week, not only will we be drawing new maps for districts, we’ll also be keeping the state gas tax at more reasonable levels – and that’s a good thing.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 301-A, Atlanta, Ga., 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.