by Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
The Georgia Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday temporarily suspending the state sales tax on gasoline, but not before a lengthy debate over who is to blame for record-high pump prices.
The bill, which the state House of Representatives passed last week, now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.
The governor and lawmakers acted after gas prices surged following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Suspension of the tax will save Georgians 29.1 cents per gallon of gasoline, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said before Thursday’s vote.
“The 29 cents is not going to completely solve the problem,” he said. “But it’s a start and a statement.”
Hufstetler went on to accuse the Biden administration of contributing to higher gas prices through the Democratic president’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL project last year and ban drilling for oil and gas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and on federal lands in Alaska.
Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, said gas prices started rising well before Russian troops entered Ukraine three weeks ago.
“Gas prices were up last year by $1 a gallon,” he said.
But Senate Democrats said the oil industry is to blame for holding down oil production in the U.S., not the Biden administration. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called on the industry last week to step up production of oil and gas.
“The administration only has control over drilling on federal lands,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. “It’s the fossil-fuel industry’s decision not to drill. … There are permits oil companies have that they’re not accessing … because it’s not cost-effective. They’re making decisions on the expectation that demand for fossil fuels will decrease.”
Hufstetler said temporarily suspending the gas tax will cost the state an estimated $300 million to $400 million in lost revenue. That gap will be covered by reserve funds, he said.
The suspension will expire May 31. Kemp could extend it after that by executive order if he deems it necessary.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.
Ed. note: On March 1, President Joe Biden authorized the release 30 million barrels of oil from the SPR in, while other International Energy Agency allies released another other 30 million barrels, in response to the crisis in Ukraine. Learn about the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve and how it affects oil and gas prices.