Sen. Bill Cowsert told a small group of Oconee County Republicans earlier this month that he voted in favor of the tax increases for transportation in March because the bill gave legislators more control over the Georgia Department of Transportation and “capped” the fuel tax–something the tax bill does only in part.Cowsert also defended the $5 per night fee added to hotel and other lodging bills as part of the transportation act on the grounds that most of those paying the fee will be from out of state. Cowsert was joined by Rep. Chuck Williams, both of whom represent Oconee County in the General Assembly, in a legislative wrap-up session hosted on May 21 by the Oconee County Republican Party at the Watkinsville Community Center. About 15 people attended. Williams listed a number of bills that had taken his time during the session, including one that eliminates penalties for nonpayment of taxes if someone voluntarily deregisters a motor vehicle. At the end of the session, Williams announced that he plans to run for re-election to the General Assembly in next year’s elections. Hard Decision Much of Cowsert’s presentation was devoted to passage on March 31–the second last day of the session–of HB 170, the transportation bill. Williams added his own comments as Cowsert spoke. Cowsert said his vote in favor of the bill “was the hardest vote I had to make this session because I pride myself that I had never voted to increase taxes of any type.” “I voted for a short-term tax increase but a long-term tax cut,” Cowsert said, and he brought along a chart to help justify his interpretation of his vote. Cowsert acknowledged he was not very good at math and that he had simplified his presentation, focusing on gross comparisons. New And Old Tax He said if gasoline were retailing at $3 per gallon, the new tax, which goes into effect on July 1, would include 53.4 cents of tax, including the federal excise tax, the new state excise tax, and local sales taxes. That is a 6.5 cents increase over what a user would pay with the taxes in place today, he said. When gas goes to $4 per gallon, Cowsert said, users will pay a half penny less than they would pay under the current tax. And when gas goes to $5 per gallon, according to Cowsert’s calculations, users would pay 7.5 cents less. His chart didn’t actually show the calculations for $5-per-gallon gas. Basis For Calcuations The reason for the savings, Cowsert argues, is that local taxes on fuels will be calculated on no more than $3 dollars per gallon. In other words, if gas goes to $4 per gallon, the user will pay as if the gas were $3 per gallon. The law is clear in putting this “cap” on local sales taxes, including those for education, something that Cowsert said most local government officials had not figured out. But Cowsert also said the state’s excise tax of 26 cents on the gallon was capped (in the video below), and the law is explicit in saying that it is not.