The Georgia Sierra Club surprised many when it recently announced it is against this summer’s voter referendum for a penny-per-dollar sales tax to pay for 157 projects aimed at easing traffic congestion in the Atlanta region.
The grass-roots environmental organization believes the current project list needs more ways to get Georgians away from their cars. (Just over half of the regional $6.14 billion list would go to mass transit projects, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported.)
Director Colleen Kiernan suggested in a radio interview that the state could fund more mass transit projects by using money from Georgia’s gas tax. She said the tax, which helps fund area road and bridge work, has contributed to metro Atlanta’s asphalt-focused development patterns.
Kiernan then made a claim about the gas tax that had PolitiFact Georgia ready to take a road trip in a search for the truth.
“Right now, we have the lowest gas tax of anywhere in the country,” Kiernan told WABE-FM’s Denis O’Hayer.
Kiernan thought she said Georgia has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation. She argued she should still get high marks from the Truth-O-Meter.
“It should definitely be on the green side,” she said, arguing for a Mostly True rating.
Kiernan sent us a report by University of Georgia researchers on whether the state’s motor use fuel tax collects enough revenue. The state’s Transportation Department asked UGA to do the research.
The motor use fuel tax in most states is an excise tax, but several states impose an
excise tax, as well as a sales tax that is applied to the sale price of gasoline.
Georgia’s excise tax is currently 7.5 cents a gallon. (Excise taxes are special taxes on the purchase of items such as gasoline, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. Excise taxes are usually fixed amounts per item, rather than percentages of the price.) Georgia adds a 3 percent tax on sales of motor fuel that is classified as motor use fuel tax and a 1 percent tax that is received as general fund revenue. In 2008, the excise tax and both sales taxes combined produced an effective rate of 21.2 cents per gallon, the UGA report noted. About 17.8 cents per gallon is classified as motor use fuel tax, UGA said.
The UGA report, which came out in December 2010, said Georgia has one of the lowest excise taxes around, but Georgia is higher than most of its Southern neighbors if you include the sales taxes.
Kiernan also forwarded us a link to a February 2010 report by the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that does research on state and federal tax policy. The report showed Georgia’s gas tax per gallon was 12.4 cents, which was the second lowest in the nation. Alaska was the lowest at 8 cents per gallon.
“Alaska is a different situation … because they get so much of the revenue from oil and gas leasing,” Kiernan said.
PolitiFact Georgia also looked at a January 2012 Tax Foundation state-by-state breakdown of state tax and other gas taxes and fees.
Georgia’s excise tax was the second lowest (only Florida was lower). Other taxes and fees pushed the Peach State into the upper half of states with the 18th highest gas taxes at 29.4 cents per gallon. But those other fees and taxes include various county gas taxes. Kiernan was talking about state taxes.
An April 2012 breakdown by the American Petroleum Institute had the same numbers for most states, including Georgia, as the January Tax Foundation report. The breakdown has a column that includes federal taxes, which are 18.4 cents per gallon in every state.
Kiernan erred a bit in what she meant to say on a radio show with a large audience.
Her larger point is supported by several charts that show Georgia has one of the lowest excise gas taxes in the nation. Her statement could have been more precise.
Still, under our rating system, she gets a Mostly True.