Fuel tax bill in Senate Rules Committee

By Justin Boron

The state legislation threatening to strain one of the county government's most important revenue sources continues to creep toward passage in the Georgia General Assembly.

A proposed fuel tax exemption aimed at helping a struggling Delta Air Lines will be heard in the Senate Rules Committee today. From there, it could go to the floor and be passed before April 1, when the General Assembly is expected to finish its 40-day session.

Not only has the bill ripped gaps of uncertainty into the county government as it prepares to outline its next budget, but the fuel tax exemption has put the county in a bind concerning the completion of six recreation centers promised as part of its $240 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell has said the measure could dramatically reduce SPLOST collections, which are heavily weighted on fuel purchases by Delta.

The SPLOST difficulty stems in part from the previous administration's prioritization of roadway enhancements ahead of the recreation centers, which community leaders say are critical to curbing problems with youth violence and crime.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph and Chairman Eldrin Bell have been meeting with the local clergy to come to some agreement on how to proceed in realizing the centers.

Bell said he would try to have construction started on the first center in Riverdale in the next two months.

The tax exemption bill easily passed through the House and is likely to do the same in the Senate if it comes to a vote.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, said she would oppose the bill as it exists now.

But the mostly Democratic Clayton County delegation has had little sway over the Republican-sponsored bill introduced by House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta.