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Gas prices climb again

By Ed Brock

Adalene Tillar of Forest Park rolled her eyes when told that gas prices would be rising again.

"I guess I have to get a bicycle and start riding that to work," Tillar said.

Gas prices in Clayton County were hovering around $2.90 a gallon on Thursday.

Prices will rise due to the state's motor fuel tax suspension that expires Saturday. As a result and additional 15 cents a gallon will be tacked on to already soaring prices.

In addition, beginning Nov. 1, motorists likely will be paying a few cents more when a higher state gas tax goes into effect. The tax in general irks Billy Powell, owner of the 1-Stop Food Shop, who said when prices go up the state profits because they charge a percentage as well as a flat tax.

"Why is it legal for the state to gouge us?" Powell asked. "They're making a killing on our misfortune."

The state should simply charge a flat rate, Powell said.

Shane Hix with the governor's office said the state charges a flat 7.5 cent per gallon excise tax and a four percent sales tax that come out to about 15 cents a gallon.

Meanwhile, Powell spoke with his distributor on Thursday and was quoted prices as high as $3.20 a gallon for regular.

"They can't even tell me if I'll get what I order," Powell said.

Diesel fuel supplies were also tight in metro Atlanta on Wednesday, with scattered shortages despite a two-day shutdown of schools on Monday and Tuesday that was meant to save fuel.

Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered on Sept. 2 the suspension of tax collections after fuel prices soared in response to damage to Gulf pipelines caused by Hurricane Katrina. On Thursday Perdue cited a shutdown of refineries and pipelines in preparation for Hurricane Rita as the cause of the reduced supply.

In response, the governor extended the state's price gouging statute by two-weeks to provide protection for consumers until Oct. 14.

"Most gas retailers in Georgia have maintained fair prices, reflecting the basic law of supply and demand," Perdue said. "We will continue to protect Georgians from the small minority of businesses who may try to exploit an already difficult situation."

The concern over short supplies leads not only to higher wholesale costs but higher markups by retailers, Powell said.

Recently those markups have gone has high as 20 cents a gallon, he added, whereas previously the markups were around six cents a gallon.

"Since nobody can get gas it goes up," Powell said. "You can't get it and you don't know if you're going to get more."

And sometimes stations have to sell their gas at a loss in order to keep up with the competition, Powell said.

Perdue has said he won't extend the gas tax break because the $75 million cost to the already budget-stricken state is prohibitive. But state Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham said many stations should not be charging the taxes this weekend.

Most stations, if not all, should be charging the extra 15 cents by next week, he said.

That's because if stations are selling gas they bought before midnight Friday - gas they didn't pay taxes on - they should not be passing the taxes on to consumers, Graham said.

"We will be watching," he said.

Powell said he may not get his new order until Saturday, at which time he will have to pay the tax. Also, while busy stations may resupply on Friday they could be in need of another delivery by Saturday or Sunday.

And as prices stay high so do the number of people who decide to drive off without paying. This month Clayton County police have investigated 22 drive-offs, Asst. Police Chief Jeff Turner said. During the same month last year they had five drive-offs which is the usual number.

In response the department is instructing its officers to spend more time at gas stations, when writing reports in their cars, for example, to provide a visible presence that might deter thieves, Turner said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.