By Stephen Burroughs and Jonathan Feldman
Georgia’s Transportation Funding Bill may lead to significant tax reform for the state in 2016. In response to a nearly $1 billion transportation budget shortfall, on March 5 the Georgia House of Representatives passed H.B. 170, which would convert Georgia’s sales tax on motor fuel to a 29.2 cents-per-gallon excise tax. The Georgia Senate then passed a substitute version, setting the excise tax rate at 24 cents per gallon, eliminating the state’s tax credit for fuel-efficient vehicles and allowing Georgia localities to impose a 1% sales tax on motor fuel that costs less than $3.40 per gallon. The legislation is now in a conference committee that is trying to find a compromise between the two bills before the regular session ends this week. But perhaps overlooked in the Senate version of the Transportation Funding Bill is its creation of a “Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure” (Committee). The Committee will be tasked with introducing “one or more bills or resolutions relating to tax reform” in the House of Representatives during the 2016 legislative session. If the Committee sounds familiar, that is because it last appeared in 2011 as a harbinger of sweeping tax reform in Georgia. While the Committee fell short of completely overhauling Georgia’s revenue structure, it did render significant changes to Georgia tax law: (1) it exempted energy used by manufacturers as part of the “integrated plant theory”; (2) established click-through and affiliate nexus provisions; (3) replaced the sales tax on motor vehicles with a one-time title and ad valorem tax; and (4) created the Georgia Tax Tribunal. A conference committee must reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Transportation Funding Bill by Thursday to avoid a Special Session. While the compromise bill will attempt to address Georgia’s transportation budget shortfall, it will also be important to monitor whether creation of the Special Joint Committee will be a bridge to nowhere or a road that leads to significant Georgia tax reform in 2016. H.B. 170, 2015-2016 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2015).