bill haslam

House Transportation Committee votes for revised Haslam tax bill

The House Transportation Committee today approved, 11-7, the same revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package — including higher taxes on fuel and lower taxes on food – that was approved earlier in the Senate Transportation Committee. The panel has been viewed as the biggest obstacle to ultimate approval of the governor’s proposal, though several hurdles remain.

The vote came after about 90 minutes of debate and defeat or withdrawal of multiple amendments. A couple of amendments were adopted. Most notably, perhaps, one would reverse a current law that says that any cut in federal gas taxes would automatically trigger a corresponding increase in state gas taxes. The amendment says any increase in federal taxes would trigger a corresponding decrease in state fuel levies.

The most debated amendment was on a proposal by Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, that would have diverted money from sales taxes collected from the sale of vehicles to the highway fund without any fuel tax increase. It failed on an 8-10 vote.

The basic bill (HB534), as now approved by both the House and Senate Transportation Committees, raises the gas tax by six cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon – both increases phased in over a three-year period. The governor’s original proposal was seven cents per gallon on gas and 12 cents on diesel, both taking full effect July 1.

The revised version also cut the state sales tax on groceries from 5 percent to 4 percent. Originally, Haslam proposed a reduction to just 4.5 percent. Administration officials say the grocery tax, for most average Tennesseans, would now more than offset the increased taxes they will pay for fuel.

Most other provisions of the governor’s original package remain in place — including a corporate tax break designed to benefit for manufacturers.

The revised bill also won approval today, as expected, in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. In the Senate, it now goes to the Finance Committee. In the House, it now goes to the Local Government Committee.

The committees overseeing local government legislation are involved because the bill also includes provisions allowing city and county governments to hold referendums on raising taxes for transportation spending.

Note: The House committee roll call vote is HERE.

Anti-tax leader: Revised Haslam transportation bill is not a tax increase

The latest version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation legislation has received a blessing from Grover Norquist, a national anti-tax activist, who says the package overall reduces more taxes than it increases. Haslam, who sought Norquist’s opinion, says that is “a really big deal,” reports the Times-Free Press.

Under the version of Haslam’s plan advancing in the Senate, the state would increase its tax on gas by 6 cents per gallon and diesel by 10 cents per gallon, but also cut other areas including the sales tax on groceries, the tax on earnings from stocks and bonds and corporate taxes owed by large manufacturers.

Norquist, founder of the group Americans for Tax Reform, said in a letter to state House and Senate members that the most recent version of the governor’s bill advancing in Senate represents a “net tax cut,” and does not violate lawmakers’ pledges to not raise taxes.

He also noted that the Senate had removed a proposal to link fuel taxes to inflation, “which means gas tax hikes will not be put on autopilot.”

The Haslam administration sought Norquist’s input on the Tennessee plan after seeing that Americans for Tax Reform supported gas tax increases in New Jersey and South Carolina when they were coupled with tax relief.

Norquist’s position on the Tennessee gas tax proposal contrasts with the strong opposition voiced by the state chapter of Americans For Prosperity, founded by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

…Haslam told reporters he considers the announcement from Norquist to be “a really big deal.”

“This is somebody who’s kind of staked his whole thing on we should never have tax increases,” Haslam said. “Whether you agree or not, the fact that the founder of that movement — who had people sign no-new-tax pledges — says this is not a tax increase.”

Note: The Nashville Post has full text of the letter HERE. Meanwhile, Tennessee Star reports Norquist’s support has caused a backlash.

(T)he fierce backlash from conservative opponents of the gas tax increase in Tennessee to the last minute attempt by supporters of the governor’s plan to bolster its chances by calling in a “celebrity ” who has never lived in the state and knows little of the intricacies of the bill or the state’s budget, spells more, rather than less, political trouble ahead for the governor and his allies.

Haslam, other GOP govs, fret over lack of flexibility in health care bill

“Flexibility” has become a buzzword among 15 Republican governors raising concerns about U.S. House GOP’s health care bill, reports Politico, including Tennessee’s Bill Haslam on it list. No governors have publicly expressed strong support for the American Health Care Act.

Further from an AP report: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that GOP legislation would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year alone, and 24 million over a decade. Haslam says it’s not clear how many people would be affected in Tennessee, and that the legislation could still change in Congress.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that the main thing the state is looking for in the overhaul is more flexibility to deal with areas like increased enrollment during an economic downturn or escalating costs for medications. He says that flexibility was not included in the in the original version of the proposed overhaul.

Similar language was used by the director of TennCare in an appearance before the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, reports the Tennessean. She said the proposal is structured to reduce Medicaid funding without loosening up regulations for states to further tailor programs.

“We definitely have concerns at this point in time,” said Long, adding the agency would continue to be in touch with the state’s federal congressional delegation to monitor amendments.

Senate panel goes for revised gas tax bill

The Senate Transportation Committee approved Monday a revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding legislation. Instead of a July 1 increase of seven cents a gallon on gasoline, the new version –  changed with the governor’s approval – calls for a six-cents-per-gallon increase phased in over three years. The diesel fuel tax would also be phased in, rising over three years by 10 cents per gallon rather than an  July 1 increase of 13 cents as originally proposed.

Excerpt from The Tennessean’s account:

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said after conversations with Haslam in recent days, they had reached an agreement on the various changes to his bill.

… Among the changes included in Norris’ amendment were a portion that would provide tax relief to the elderly and disabled veterans, reduce the sales tax on groceries to 4 percent, and a tax hike on gas and diesel fuel of 6 cents and 10 cents per gallon, respectively. (Note: The deal cuts the grocery tax by 1 percent – it’s currently 5 percent – instead of half a percentage point as Haslam proposed.)

The gas and diesel tax increases would be phased in over three years. For the upcoming 2017-2018 fiscal year, the gas tax would be increased by 4 cents. In each subsequent fiscal year it would increase by 1 cent.

The diesel tax would be increased by 4 cents in the upcoming fiscal year and would be hiked in the following fiscal years before maxing out at 27 cents in fiscal year 2019-2020.

Unlike the phased-in approach on the gas and diesel taxes, the decrease in the state’s sales tax would be immediate. The cuts to the tax on groceries would result in a $120 million reduction in revenue for the state.

… Other significant changes included in Norris’ amendment is a portion that would would increase the amount of tax relief a service-connected disabled veteran could receive. Right now, eligible veterans can receive tax relief based only on the value of the first $100,000 of their home. The latest proposal would increase the amount to $135,100.

Haslam’s gas tax bill left in legislative muddle for another week

Legislators left Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding bill in a confused tangle Tuesday.

A special Senate subcommittee amended the measure to eliminate everything but a list of highway projects that should be funded, then approved the measure. The House Transportation Committee, meanwhile, argued about the bill at some length, then put off a vote until next week.

From the Times-Free Press report:

Asked about his take on what had transpired (in the House committee), Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told a reporter “just come back in a week.”

As for whether it means problems ahead for the bill, which seeks to raise gas taxes by 7 cents per gallon for regular unleaded and diesel by 12 cents, Schroer said, “you’d have to ask them [commmittee members].”

Earlier in the day, a specially created Senate Transportation subcommittee unanimously approved the Republican governor’s proposed road improvement plan. But it didn’t include Haslam’s recommended gas and diesel tax increases to fund it.

The Senate version of the Republican governor’s proposed IMPROVE Act also doesn’t include Haslam’s recommended cuts in non-highway taxes that are intended to have an overall revenue-neutral impact on the state’s budget.

What senators did approve were just the 962 highway, interstate and bridge projects listed in the actual bill Haslam said are needed to tackle an estimated $10.5 billion backlog of projects.

Note: It’s SB1221/HB534

Interim appointment, special election set to pick new state rep

The Shelby County Commission has set April 3 as the date for a meeting to choose a temporary successor to state Rep. Mark Lovell, who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment, and Gov. Bill Haslam has set later dates for two special elections in the House District 95 seat.

The governor’s writ of election, issued Thursday, sets the primary special election for April 27 and the general election for June 15. There will be a 15-day early voting period preceding both.

The district is considered strongly Republican. Lovell, a Republican, defeated longtime Republican Rep. Curry Todd in the August, 2016, GOP primary.

County commissioners say they’ve heard from “dozens” of people interested in seeking appointment to the position on an interim basis, according to WREG-TV. The interim appointee, of course, can then run in the special elections to keep the seat on a full-time basis.

County commissioners say they’ve heard from “dozens” of people interested in seeking appointment to the position on an interim basis, according to WREG-TV. The interim appointee, of course, can then run in the special elections to keep the seat on a full-time basis.

Fall Creek Falls privatization postponed; Democrats declare victory

The Haslam administration has abruptly abandoned the Thursday deadline originally set for companies interested in taking over operation of Fall Creek Falls State Park to file bids with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, reports the Times-Free Press.

Eric Ward (TDEC spokesman)…  said today in response to a Times Free Press (inquiry) that “the RFP has been postponed to incorporate amended process language which will be made available soon.”

It was not known how long the proposal would be postponed or what the specific issues leading to it are.

There was no immediate elaboration but the administration’s process has been under fire from the Tennessee State Employees Association as well as several lawmakers who have raised questions not only on that issue but the effort to privatize hospitality services at the park, which straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe counties in a remote area of the Upper Cumberland Plateau.

 

Democrats opposing privatization opponents promptly sent a statement declaring victory. It’s  below.

Continue reading

Haslam report from Washington: Things ‘pretty fluid’ on Obamacare, but he’s encouraged

After  a long weekend in Washington, including meeting with President Trump along with other governors, Gov. Bill Haslam says things are “pretty fluid” on repealing and replacing Obamacare in the nation’s capitol but he’s encouraged that the presidential administration, Congress and governors are working together on the matter.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

“What we’re trying to do is have everybody be on the same page with something that can actually pass and will work in the states,” Haslam said.

In play are several key aspects as Republicans seek to change the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as well as the traditional Medicaid program for the poor, thereby saving billions for the federal government but potentially impacting millions of Americans.

One is ending the status of Medicaid as an open-ended entitlement Medicaid program with newcomers able to come in with the federal government picking up varying percentages of the tab with states covering a smaller percentage of costs.

…Haslam acknowledged difficulty in getting everyone on the same page.

“Obviously, to get something passed you’re going to have to do something that states that expanded and those who didn’t can live with,” said Haslam.

Haslam was appointed to the eight-person working group by Republican Governors Association Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

House Republicans’ plan includes a proposal to turn federal Medicaid financing from an open-ended entitlement to a block grant or a per capita allotment to states. Haslam said he favors the latter.

He also thinks states like Tennessee, which didn’t expand Medicaid, shouldn’t be harmed financially because they didn’t.

“No. 1, I don’t think that a state should be penalized who didn’t expand as we do that,” the governor said. “No. 2, I think it has to be something, I’m more in favor of a per cap-type grant rather than a block grant.”

A block grant provides a set amount of federal spending per year regardless of how many people enroll in a state’s Medicaid program. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the per capita grant differs in that the federal government would set a limit on how much to reimburse states per enrollee.

Haslam, other govs, meet with Trump on Obamacare

Tennessee’s Bill Haslam was among a group of governors meeting with President Trump Monday for a discussion of Obamacare, reports the Associated Press.

“It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” Trump told the governors.

Haslam unsuccessfully pushed a plan to expand health insurance access to hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan would have used funds made available through the Affordable Care Act.

“There was discussion around a couple of topics, including infrastructure, but the discussion was predominantly around health care, and Gov. Haslam was very encouraged by the amount of collaboration between the White House, Congress and governors on this issue,” Haslam spokeswoman Laura Herzog said by email Monday. “He has never seen the White House and Congress listen to governors as much as they are doing now.”

Continue reading

Architects, engineers object to Haslam’s park privatization plans

Tennessee architects and engineers say Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to privatize operations at Fall Creek Falls State Park would largely bypass the State Building Commission, which normally oversees all state property projects, reports the Times-Free Press.

That brings them into “the political battle between the administration on one side and, on the other, state employees and Van Buren County who oppose outsourcing hospitality services at the remote Cumberland Plateau park considered the “jewel” of Tennessee’s park system.”

The administration has set aside $22 million to tear down the park’s inn and build a new one. The proposal would allow vendors to select their own architects, engineers and construction teams. But William Blankenship, a Knoxville architect and president of the American Institute of Architects- Tennessee, said the RFP “circumvents” the State Building Commission.

When “the state of Tennessee hires me as the designer and I sign a contract with the state, I serve the state and I serve the state’s best interest,” Blankenship said.

“When somebody’s working for a concessionaire out of New York City, they’re going to sign a contract with that concessionaire. Do you really think he’s going to work in the state’s best interest? He’s going to move across the table to the concessionaire. And they’re going to work together either for or against the state of Tennessee.”

Continue reading

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

Subscribe by Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
Email *