From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 8, March 6, 2015 - The $1 Billion Transportation Bill, a Tax Increase
We returned to the Capitol and our Legislative duties on Monday, March 2 for the 24th day and start of the 8th week of the 2015 legislative session. Like many State Reps, being in Atlanta is only part of the job. I usually stay busy with legislative activities pretty much all weekend, whether it’s making phone calls, answering correspondence, attending community events, and attending meetings – all of which are part of the job.
This week, we spent a few more hours “in session”, and attending committee and sub-committee hearings as legislators present their bills for consideration. This step occurs before bills move to the rules committee and a final decision on whether a bill will come before the full house for a vote. These are time consuming but vitally important steps in the legislative process as bills work their way through the General Assembly.
Transportation Bill (HB170)
Probably the most significant bill of the 2015 session, at least in terms of the dollars involved, came before the House and was passed by a vote of 123 for and 46 against. I voted NO on the Transportation Bill.
In my view, the Transportation Bill - as passed - is bad for Georgia taxpayers, bad for Georgia consumers, bad for our local communities (counties and cities) and bad for our local school system. It is purely and simply a tax increase of major proportions.
We all agree that we must fund transportation infrastructure needs. We all know and agree on that basic premise. What we disagree on is how to pay for it.
In my opinion, the Transportation Committee proposed absolutely no fresh, new, out-of-the-box ideas on solving our funding problem. The choice we were given to vote on – raise taxes.
Transportation Bill –Official Version from the House Communications Office
Transportation improvements have long struggled to match Georgia’s rapid economic progress, resulting in too many roads and bridges that are now in need of critical maintenance. HB170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways, many of which have been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient; therefore, these funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. Well-maintained roads and bridges will enhance safety and quality of life for our citizens, but these road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses to our state and create jobs for Georgians.
HB 170 provides this funding through a variety of measures, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. This tax conversion will provide a dedicated, predictable and steady funding source and a long term solution to our state’s transportation funding issues. Not only will the excise tax conversion provide the necessary funding for transportation maintenance and improvement, but it also will help ensure gas taxes remain constant between counties and through periods of high spikes in gas prices.
Additional revenue for our transportation needs will come from a significant bond package that will go towards funding for the 128 transit systems across Georgia. Funding for our transit systems will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This bond package is a practical way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state.
Other funding sources in the Transportation Funding Act include the establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use. This fee will provide equity among those who drive on our roads and ensure everyone pays their fair share. HB170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel, which was established several years ago in a struggling economy, where companies were in jeopardy of bankruptcy. Furthermore, the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
Overall, HB170 ensures that Georgia remains an attractive place for businesses and families by making our roadways safe for all drivers. I look forward to seeing the impact that this legislation will have in our district and communities, and I am proud that our body sees the value in transportation. HB170 is now in the Senate’s hands for consideration.
(Now back to my stuff)
Uber and Other Private Transportation Companies (HB190)
The House also passed another piece of legislation intended to ensure that passengers riding in private transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft, are covered with sufficient insurance for the protection of their passengers. Some would argue that passage of this bill is intended to stifle free-enterprise and entrepreneurship by forcing this new, alternative form of transportation to buy insurance. I disagreed with that opinion and voted in favor of HB190.
Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal vehicles, counting on their personal auto policy, to provide insurance coverage. In fact, personal auto coverage does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. HB190 addresses this lack of insurance coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless if any passengers are onboard. The legislation also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage. HB190 takes the necessary steps to protect the many Georgians who drive or ride with companies like UBER and LYFT.
Seat Belts Now Required for 15 Passenger Vans (HB325)
You may be surprised to learn that 15 passenger vans, used by many child care centers, churches and others, are among the most dangerous vehicles in which to be a passenger because they are so long and are very top-heavy, causing then to easily roll over. House Bill 325, which passed this week, requires passengers in vans that have 15-passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Under current law, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 passengers or fewer. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, approximately 1,111 fatalities occurred between 1990 and 2002 as a result of crashes involving 15 passenger vans, and the study found that 80 percent of those who died were not wearing seat belts.
State ID Card Holders Can Elect to be Automatic Organ Donors (HB210)
Another potentially life-saving bill passed this week was House Bill 210, which allows Georgia citizens to designate that they wish to be an organ donor by so designating on their state issued I.D. cards. Currently, organ donor status is listed on drivers’ licenses, but not on state issued I.D. cards. Interestingly, changes such as this require legislation to make them happen.
Asthma Treatment for Children While at School (HB362)
In addition to passing several measures related to our state’s transportation system, the House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 ensures that schools are well equipped to treat students with asthma by allowing schools to obtain and stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma has become a common and growing illness and schools should be prepared to help our children handle these types of emergencies.
Read Across Georgia Month – a Sandra and Governor Deal Reading Initiative
In a continued effort to combat illiteracy, Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. As a part of the launch of this new initiative, First Lady Sandra Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program and helps teach parents and caregivers how to make reading come alive to the children in their lives. I commend our First Lady for her diligent efforts to help Georgia’s children develop a lifelong love of reading.
On a Lighter Note
Finally, this week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to being named an eight-time All Star, Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Looking Ahead to Week 9
Next week will be an extremely busy week. On Friday, March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. With this deadline in mind, we will work longer hours every day to pass whatever remaining legislation is out there to get it through the House chamber.
Communicating with Constituents
I hope that you will contact me during this crucial week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office at the State Capitol, the number is 404-656-0126. Please also encourage your friends, neighbors and co-workers to sign up for these email updates on our website: www.VoteJeffJones.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.
Brunswick, GA 31525