AAA expects jobs boost to hike gas prices

While the region has been rocked by some sobering economic news over the past week, an optimistic economic outlook on the national front may be cause for future hikes in gasoline prices.

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Monday that net revenue collections for the state in February were $62,197,000 (9.9 percent) less than was collected in February 2009, making year-to-date revenues down by 12.7 percent. The news came less than a week after the Georgia Department of Labor reported that the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate reached a record high of 10.4 percent in January.

As if that weren't enough, Georgians may also be hit with additional jumps in gas prices over the coming days, similar to price increases experienced during the final week of February. Then, motorists saw a nearly 10-cent increase in average gas prices in one week. The spike, according to AAA Auto Club South Spokeswoman Jessica Brady , was a delayed reaction to the increasing cost of crude oil.

"Now that the price of crude has increased," Brady said, "retail gas prices will follow suit. Some markets have already seen a 4-cent increase in retail prices since Friday afternoon."

Brady said the price of crude oil has continued to climb amid positive economic news, closing last Friday at $81.50 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. "Reports from the U.S. Labor Department stated unemployment rose less than forecasted, showing further signs of economic recovery," she said. "The continued positive news bolstered investor expectations that U.S. fuel demand is on the rise."

Additionally, a March 3 United States Energy Department report revealed that "U.S. fuel use, averaged over the past four weeks, was 3 percent higher than a year earlier," she said. "Several positive economic reports in the past two weeks have pushed the price of crude oil higher and higher as investors see signs that fuel demand will grow."

Brady added that Georgia is fairing relatively well compared to national, average prices, and average prices in states like California.

The national average for unleaded regular gasoline was $2.75 per gallon on Monday, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. The report revealed that Californians paid an average of $3.06 for the same grade of gas, while Georgians paid an average of $2.66 per gallon.