The Blog

This Week Under the Gold Dome: Week 2

Posted on February 03, 2015

By: Elizabeth Holland

While the days may be cold, business under the dome is heating up. Through the budget discussions, the transportation debate and new legislation, Spencer has been advocating for you on these major issues.

Revised Budget

When lawmakers allocate money for next year’s budget, the total amount of the budget is based on an estimate. The governor’s office uses a process based on revenue the state collected in the past year and current economic conditions among other things to estimate how much revenue the state will collect in the next year.

Because the revenue figures are estimates, the legislature makes mid-year adjustments to the budget by passing “the little budget” to update funding needed for increased school enrollments and other state responsibilities. This year’s revenue estimate was increased by $87 million over the original estimate, and $192 million was allocated from the Mid-Year Adjustment Reserve for increased K-12 enrollment.

Representative Frye and the rest of the House voted unanimously to approve the following additional appropriations.

$35 million for grants to local school systems for broadband Internet connectivity

$20 million for Regional Economic Business Assistance grants

$20 million for grants and loans to assist local communities with strategic economic development projects

$15 million for Forestland Protection Grants, including $8 million for school systems

$15 million for child welfare services

$5 million to provide clinical trials through Georgia Regents University to study the efficacy and safety of cannabidiol in children with medication resistant epilepsy

Transportation

Before session, Rep. Jay Roberts and Sen. Steve Gooch co-chaired a study committee on transportation. The committee found the state the state needs to raise between $1.0 and $1.5 billion in additional funds to maintain minimum maintenance of our current transportation system.

House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, was introduced in response to the study committee’s report. The proposed legislation provides about $1 billion in funding for transportation largely by reallocating funds from local governments and school boards currently being spent on capital projects approved by local voters.

First, the bill converts the state’s tax structure on gasoline from a split sales and excise tax to a single excise tax. Based on average gasoline prices over the last four years, this transition does not raise additional revenue for the state (although a provision related to truckers is expected to raise $60 million). The transition does raise money for transportation by reallocating it from the general fund. Previously, a portion of gas taxes called the “fourth penny” supplemented revenue for schools, health care, and other state spending in the general fund. The new excise tax is indexed to both CAFÉ standards (standards governing miles per gallon averages for vehicle fleets) and the Construction Price Index (a measure of costs in the construction industry). Indexing the tax allows for it to change as fuel standards and prices change.

Included in the transition from a sales to an excise tax is a provision that prohibits local governments from levying sales taxes on gasoline as a part of future SPLOSTs. Counties use SPLOSTs to raise funds for local capital projects. Currently, Clarke County raises funds from a SPLOST and an E-SPLOST for projects like the Classic Center expansion and school facility updates. The Georgia Municipal Association estimates that this transition will take $516 million from local governments and $172 million from local school boards. Clarke County is estimated to lose over $5 million. Current SPLOSTs are grandfathered in, but future SPLOSTs will lose some ability to raise funds for voter-approved projects.

Local governments will be allowed to implement their own three penny excise tax in addition to the state excise tax, however funds from this tax cannot be spent on projects like the Classic Center expansion. Instead, these funds will be required to be spent on transportation projects.

The bill raises new funds by instituting a new fee for alternative-fuel vehicles powered by electricity, natural gas, or propane. These vehicles currently do not contribute to transportation funding by not paying any gasoline taxes. These funds are intended to support mass transit projects like rail lines or bus transportation.

In addition, the plan increases the state’s bonding capacity by $100 million primarily for bridge maintenance and transit projects. These funds are borrowed funds to jump start projects now and pay for them over time.

The legislation was introduced Thursday and will work its way through the committee process in the coming weeks.

Spencer’s Legislation

Rep. Frye is taking on some issues that will make a huge impact on you, the community and our state. Here are some of the bills he has co-sponsored.

House Bill 86 provides for transferring the existing Division of Aging Services within the Department of Human Services into a newly formed Georgia Adult and Aging Services agency within that same department. The bill also provides for rules on membership and duties of the Agency’s Georgia Adult and Aging Services board. DAS currently investigates “abuse, neglect and exploitation of Georgians age 65 or older and adults with disabilities over the age of 18 who do not reside in a long-term care facility, and it intervenes to reduce the risk of maltreatment.”

House Bill 23 eliminates the seven-year limitation from the student’s graduation from high school or the equivalent thereof on receiving a HOPE scholarship.

House Bill 24 creates the opportunity for students who did not originally qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship to receive the scholarship if they meet qualifications later in their education.

House Bill 152 establishes that businesses who have alcohol related infractions have to report these to the Department of Revenue. Also, it creates the condition that no one under 21 except military personnel listed in the bill can be bouncers, individuals primarily performing duties related to security, maintaining order or safety at locations where alcoholic beverages are served.

House Bill 92 provides that employers who provide sick leave shall allow an employee to use such sick leave for the care of an immediate family member.

House Bill 169 provides that county tag agents may issue temporary operating permits for vehicles that do not comply with applicable federal emission standards if the owner provides proof of insurance and has paid certain fees listed in the bill.

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