2015 Capitol Update Week 8 – Transportation and Brunch

HB 170 the Transportation Funding Act

The “big” bill this week was HB 170 the Transportation Funding Act. As a member of both the House Transportation and Ways & Means Committees, I have been actively involved in the discussions regarding funding our future transportation investments. Prior to reaching the floor, Representative Rich Golich offered a Rules Committee amendment to reduce the state excise tax rate in Gwinnett, Cherokee, and Cobb counties to adjust for local option tax differences. I co-signed the amendment; however, the Rules Committee voted to exclude it from the bill.

The floor vote on HB 170 occurred on Thursday and involved four separate votes – I voted YES on each measure.

After Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts presented HB 170, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal offered an amendment to reduce the state excise tax rate from 29.2 cents to 24 cents per gallon. I voted YES to the reduction; however, the motion failed 77 – 94.

Representative Ed Setzler then offered an amendment to require a referendum of voters within any county that intended to construct any new fixed guide-way transit system (i.e. – rail line). I voted YES to require a referendum; however, the motion failed 84 – 87.

After both floor amendments failed, Majority Whip Matt Ramsey motioned to table HB 170. I voted YES to table the bill; however, the motion failed 56 – 111.

On House passage of HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act I voted YES.

Reasoning in support of my YES vote on HB 170

HB 170 included numerous policy positions I advocated for; therefore, I supported keeping the bill ‘alive’ by sending it to the Senate. This most certainly was not our last vote on the issue – I reserve my right to vote ‘No’ on the final bill.

What does HB 170 include that I believe is the right course for Georgia’s future?

  • Georgia will no longer ‘divert’ funds collected on motor fuel to other spending. By converting to a state excise tax, the state will spend all motor fuel taxes on transportation.
  • Georgia began shifting debt service from the Department of Transportation budget to the General Fund budget under the FY 2016 budget when issuing $210 million in transportation bonds.
  • Ways & Means advanced and HB 170 included elimination of the $45 million electric vehicle tax credit as well as the $25 million jet fuel sales tax exemption.
  • Alternative fuel vehicles that paid little or nothing toward road maintenance incur an annual $200 fee under HB 170.
  • Converting to an excise tax on motor fuel allows Georgia to participate in the International Fuel Tax Agreement that may generate up to $60 million in new revenue by removing an incentive for our trucking industry to make fuel purchases outside the state.

At the end of the day, transportation is a core, Constitutional government function rightly funded via taxation. Though the House has thus far supported a tax increase for transportation, I am also working daily to eliminate unnecessary spending, special exemptions, credits, and reduce taxation.

On that note, the House is considering two income tax reduction measures – HB 435 and HB 445.

Income Tax Cuts – HB 435 and HB 445

Representative B. J. Pak of Lilburn and I introduced HB 435 this week that wouldreduce the top state income tax bracket from 6% to 5.25% by eliminating all itemized deductions save charitable contributions and mortgage interest up to $20,000 per year.

Representative John Carson of Marietta introduced HB 445 that would reduce the top state income tax rate further to 4% by increasing the statewide sales tax to 5% and imposing that tax on a greater number of goods and services including food.

I do not anticipate either bill will become law this year, however, I believe it is well past time the General Assembly begins the discussion on reducing income taxes for all Georgians.

My letter of January 23, 2015 advocating for increased transportation funding and state income tax cuts.

On a lighter note – HB 535 the Brunch Bill

My week ended with the Regulated Industries Committee unanimously passing HB 535 the Brunch Bill that permits local governments, already allowing Sunday alcohol sales, to expand the serving hours to 10:30 a.m. The Georgia Restaurant Association anticipates nearly 4,000 of the 17,000 restaurants in Georgia would benefit from passage of this legislation.

If there is a bill or issue that is important to you or your family, send me a quick
email at Brett@VoteHarrell.com and let me know your opinion.

Committee calendars

House committee meeting calendar:

Senate committee meeting calendar:

As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state Capitol.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0254 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at brett.harrell@house.ga.gov.

Thanks for allowing me to serve,