As a college student who commutes near Atlanta on a regular basis, I was shocked to learn that on a regular Thursday evening of rush hour traffic, the city's major interstate highway I-85's overpass collapsed due to a blazing fire. No lives were lost because thankfully, troopers had the good sense to question the stability of the bridge prior to its collapse and had taken the initiative to block entry into the highway's overpass. As the traffic jam worsened considerably, residents naturally began to reevaluate the debilitating condition of our Georgia highways – wondering, weren't our tax dollars supposed to prevent things like this?
Theoretically, yes. As shown in Georgia's 2017 Fiscal Year Budget, 7.6 percent of the annual budget is allocated for transportation. In fact, on February 19, 2016, Governor Nathan Deal approved "a $750 million increase in the state budget for road and bridge improvements" due to House Bill 170 which took effect July 1, 2015, "resulting in a large increase in gas tax collections... since it is applied to the number of gallons people purchase instead of the sale price."
This sounds like a constructive effort, until you recall that it's only a portion of the 7.6 percent of the state's entire fiscal plan – how could that possibly be enough to maintain Georgia's seven interstates, including the I-85 which is 178 miles alone, when it costs $4 million per mile just to expand an interstate highway?
This is why the 2.8 percent is a questionable figure. According to Georgia's state constitution, excise taxes are fixed special fees charged for specific goods, such as gasoline – hence the motor-fuel tax, which contributes "about 4 to 5 percent of state revenues." This tax stipulates that "the state must spend whatever amount is raised by the motor-fuel tax on roads and bridges."
So why is a mere portion of 7.6 percent of our taxes being used to fix our roads?
Truckers asked the same question when they filed a class-action lawsuit against the Revenue Department on September 18, 2015 "to ensure that all the taxes collected on motor fuel go toward road improvements." Locals followed suit in the call to fund renovations that have been overlooked time and time again "to build a local school or park, or to roll back property taxes."
This is a clear cause for concern, considering Georgia's gas tax often fluctuates, from being the 49th on the national scale in 2009 to ascending 18th place in 2012.
This gas tax (aka the motor-fuel tax) is composed of two parts: a sales tax on the purchase alone and an excise tax of 7.5 cents per gallon. The sales tax varies based on the price of gas whereas the excise tax is set for the year. But it's reported that "even in the relatively high-tax years, our spending on roads and bridges remains comparatively low," which would explain why the Atlanta highways are in brittle condition today.
Our 2017 excise tax was updated in January to 26 cents per gallon of regular fuel and 29 cents per gallon for diesel, totaling to about a 6 cent increase in gas price since 2015.
But don't get too comfortable yet folks, because it was also decided in January that Georgia's gas tax will go up 0.3 cents to a total 31.20 cents per gallon. Whether that tax is used to repair our roads, however, is another story.