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AJC Opinion: Hiking the gas tax would put Georgia schools on road to better days

Steve J. Smith is the superintendent of  Wilcox County Schools.

By Steve J. Smith

I am excited that state leaders are considering a hike in the gas tax.

Naturally, I have an ulterior motive -- any additional revenues generated by such a hike could relieve some pressure on the general fund, which should bode well for public education.

We appreciate what the governor and Legislature did this past session in reducing the austerity cuts, and we are hopeful an improving economy will provide the revenues needed for additional reductions.

I have attached a graph depicting 12-month revenues since June 2007. Each data point represents that month's revenues and the previous eleven months for a true annual revenue total. The best news from the data is the state is finally above the $18 billion mark, not seen since March 2008.

Interestingly, the austerity for that fiscal year (FY08) amounted to just under $143 million, compared to our current austerity of just under $747 million.

While we would love to see austerity reduced to FY08 levels, I can assure you all public school systems in the state will put to good use any additional funding we can get.

While most of us used the current year's reduction to return to a 180-day school year (or its equivalent; we remain on a 4-day school week), most of us who have done so are dipping into reserves this year.

Fortunately, a few of us still have reserves, although many of my colleagues around the state do not.

Back to the gas tax. For years I have asked that the state consider a 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax and provide a state tax credit for full-time Georgia residents for the increase.

Remember the old state sales tax schedule that we used to determine our credit on our state individual income tax return? I envision something very similar, along with a business credit, too.

The best news regarding the increase is that most of it would be borne by visitors traveling through Georgia. Very few vehicles traveling down I-75 to Disney World can avoid one stop to refuel. The cost to administer the credit would be minimal compared to the revenues generated.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.