Georgia Supreme Court Sides with Attorney General and GMA on Transportation Tax Suit

June 5, 2017

In a unanimous decision announced on Monday, June 5, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that local sales and use taxes imposed on the retail sale of motor fuel are not “motor fuel taxes.” The court's decision affirms the trial court’s dismissal of the action brought by the Georgia Motor Trucking Association (GMTA) and three trucking companies that contended that sales taxes imposed by local governments on motor fuel can only be expended for “providing and maintaining an adequate system of public roads and bridges” and “road and construction maintenance.” The suit was filed after the Georgia General Assembly passed the Transportation Funding Act of 2015. 

The Court’s opinion details the legislative history of “motor fuel tax” provisions in Georgia statutes and the Georgia Constitution to determine what is meant by the term “motor fuel taxes,” concluding that revenues from generally applicable sales and use taxes have not been earmarked at the state level for roads and bridges while excise taxes on distributors of motor fuels have been so dedicated. In a footnote in it's decision, the Court says as follows: “Indeed, those general sales taxes are ‘motor fuel taxes’ only in the sense that they are also ‘pencil taxes’ and ‘umbrella taxes.’ The Constitution’s use of the term ‘motor fuel taxes’ clearly refers to a tax that applies to motor fuel in a unique way that generally applicable sales taxes do not.” The Court also held that the trial court erred in determining that the tax refund statute provides an adequate legal remedy for the claims by the trucking companies and their association. However, that holding did not change the outcome of the case.

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