gas taxes

Speedy governor signs IMPROVE tax package into law

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law the “IMPROVE Act,” including increases in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, on Wednesday — just two days after it gained final legislative approval, according to the governor’s press secretary, Jennifer Donnals.

That’s rapid processing, both for the legislative staff and the governor’s office. Often it takes a week or so for a bill to go through the “engrossing” process and other steps in formal requirements for presentation of a bill in final version to the governor. And then the governor has 10 days (counting Saturdays, but not Sundays), once a bill reaches his desk, to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Presumably, the governor and legislative leaders simply wanted the process complete as they  move to wrap up work on the state budget in the coming week or two. Action on the budget has been delayed this year – last year, the legislative session ended on April 20th – because several budget provisions hinged on whether or not the IMPROVE Act was approved or not.

In an email to media, Donnals says a more ballyhooed “ceremonial signing” will be scheduled at a later date. That will give legislative leaders and other dignitaries a chance to watch (and perhaps make speeches) as the governor goes through the motions of signing again a bill that has already become law.

House OKs Senate amendments, sends gas tax bill to governor

The House went along Monday night with Senate amendments to Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package, including increases in the state levies on gasoline and diesel fuel, giving the measure final approval and sending it to the governor for his signature.

The vote was 67-21. The House had approved the overall bill last earlier on a 60-37 vote.

The key amendment added by the Senate Thursday was to increase state-funded property tax relief for disabled veterans to cover the first $175,000 value of their home. Currently, only the first $100,000 is covered.

The House – especially those who had opposed the overall Haslam bill, known as the IMPROVE Act — had pushed to have the veterans tax relief included in a separate bill. But even some who voted against the overall bill went along with the amendments, even though protesting the procedure.

Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, acting as sponsor of Haslam’s bill, said separate legislation dealing with only the veterans bill is dead in the Senate, though it has passed the House. And he said the Senate version of veterans tax relief bill raised the home value to just $135,000, not the $175,000 that is in the Senate amendment to the IMPROVE Act.

Further, from the Times-Free Press:

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Some contrasting commentary on passage of gas tax bill

From Tea Party leader Judson Phillips, writing in Tennessee Star (excerpt):

The Tennessee Republican Party died on April 19, 2017. Ten years after the GOP became the majority party in Tennessee, led by a liberal governor, the party committed political suicide.

By voting for the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Tennessee, the Republicans in the state legislature knifed their base in the back and repudiated everything they claim to stand for. Tennessee Republicans routinely make campaign speeches talking about how conservative they are and how they believe in limited government.

Today, Tennessee’s conservative base knows this is a lie… Unfortunately, the Tennessee Republicans supermajority in the legislature chose to listen to a lame duck, feckless crap weasel governor instead of the people who put them in office.

From Gov. Bill Haslam

“The IMPROVE Act is the largest tax cut in Tennessee history, makes us more competitive as we’re recruiting manufacturing jobs and keeps our transportation network safe, reliable and debt-free for the next generation of Tennesseans. While there remains action to be taken on this legislation, I want to thank both chambers for their votes today on the IMPROVE Act, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Reps. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) for their work carrying the legislation.”

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House approves gas tax bill 60-37; Senate approves 25-6

The House approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package, including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes, on a 60-37 vote Wednesday after more than four hours of debate.

The Senate followed shortly afterwards — with considerably less debate – on a 25-6 vote.

There are some minor differences on the bill, one clarifying effective dates on parts of the tax package, that must be resolved before it goes to the governor. But should occur quickly, clearing the way for work on the state budget next week.

In the House, there were 80 amendments to deal with. The latest governor-approved version of HB534 raises the gas tax by six cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by ten cents per gallon – phased in over a three-year period. That’s coupled with a cut in corporate taxes for manufacturers, a reduction on the state sales tax on groceries and a cut in the Hall income tax on investment income.

Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, acted as sponsor on the House floor, successfully tabling a long list of hostile amendments while others were ultimately withdrawn. A key vote came on a proposal by Rep. David Hawk, R-Rogersville, to rewrite the governor’s bill to exclude both the tax increases and the tax cuts. The Hawk amendment would instead have diverted sales tax revenue from purchase of vehicles to the state’s highway fund.

Hawk’s amendment failed with 38 representatives supporting it, 58 opposed.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, eyeing a run for governor,  voted against the Haslam proposal when it first came under as an amendment, then voted for Hawk alternative plan. But she then voted yes on the final vote on the bill, as amended.

Excerpt from the AP’s report:

“While this was not the plan I preferred — I definitely preferred the other plan — at the end of the day infrastructure is a limited role of government and we need to perform it well,” Harwell told reporters after the vote.

The speaker said she doesn’t anticipate revived efforts to change the funding mechanism if the bill ends up in a conference committee to iron out differences.

…The House vote on the bill illustrated how closely divided the Republican supermajority is on the measure, with 37 members voting for and 35 voting against. Democrats voted 23-2 in favor of the amendment.

House roll call vote (cut and pasted from legislative website – which also has votes on amendments, parliamentary moves and such HERE if you click on ‘votes’ at the top right of the page.).

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Report: Poor TN road conditions cost drivers $6B

A national transportation research group says deterioration, congestion and lack of safety features on Tennessee roads and bridges cost the state’s drivers $6 billion annually, according to an AP brief summarizing the study.

The report by TRIP was released Tuesday, the day before a House floor vote on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to raise the gas tax for road improvements. The group says the $6 billion figure includes higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.  

The report says the average extra cost to each driver annually is $2,019 in Memphis, $1,667 in Nashville, $1,471 in Chattanooga and $1,376 in Knoxville.

Note: The full report is HERE. TRIP bills itself as a nonprofit research organization “sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers; businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction; labor unions; and organizations concerned with efficient and safe surface transportation.”

Study finds vehicle sales tax more volatile than fuel tax

The Sycamore Institute, founded in 2015 by former state Sen. Jim Bryson of Franklin (also the Republican nominee for governor in 2006) and billing itself as a “nonpartisan policy research center for Tennessee,” has issued a 20-year comparison of state fuel tax revenue and sales tax revenue from vehicle sales taxes.

The accompanying chart shows state sales taxes on vehicles dipped by nearly 20 percent during the 2008 recession. Fuel taxes dipped by about 5 percent during that time.

gas-tax-revenue-and-car-sales-in-tennessee

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Harwell to divided Republicans: ‘Be kind to each other’

With Gov. Bill Haslam’s gas tax bill scheduled to hit the House and Senate floors on Wednesday, GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell is urging divided fellow Republicans to “try to keep personalities out of it” during debate, reports the Times-Free Press.

“This will be a hard week,” Harwell told GOP Caucus members Monday. “We got big votes and I’m just asking y’all no matter how you come down on this — we’re going to have good Republicans for this bill, we’re going to have good Republicans against this bill — I’m asking you to be kind to each other.

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Gas tax maneuvers: Haslam targets 15 House votes; Harwell may flip-flop

House Speaker Beth Harwell, who last week declared her support for an alternative to Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package proposal, now says she’s “leaning” toward support of the administration bill, reports the Times-Free Press.

The governor, meanwhile, has set up 20-minute private interviews with 15 legislators considered “on the fence” in voting for the bill, reports The Tennessee Star. There are 11 Republicans and four Democrats on the list of legislators getting an emailed invitation.

The House floor vote on Haslam’s bill is scheduled for Wednesday.

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Gas tax supporters buy $127K in radio ads

A group of associations backing Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed IMPROVE Act is launching a statewide radio campaign with ads touting the legislation that raises fuel taxes for transportation while also cutting other taxes, reports the Times-Free Press.

With the legislation heading to the state House and Senate floor as early as next week, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee plans to begin airing the 60-second spots starting Thursday, going through April 21. The $127,000 buy’s hits the Chattanooga, Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Tri-Cities markets.

Dubbed the “It’s Smart” series, the ads say “it’s smart to support better roads, safe bridges and tax cuts.”

The organization’s news release is below.

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Haslam gas tax plan clears House Finance; no vote on Harwell alternative

Gov. Bill Haslam gas tax bill won approval of the House Finance Committee in a voice vote Tuesday after an alternative proposal promoted by House Speaker Beth Harwell was discussed, then shelved without a vote.

The Harwell alternative came in the form of an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, that would have diverted sales tax revenue from vehicle sales to the highway fund rather than the state’s general fund. Haslam’s bill (HB534) raises the gas tax by six cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon over a three-year period. It also includes cuts to other taxes.

Further from The Tennessean:

The House finance committee’s approval of Haslam’s bill assures the measure could receive a vote on the House floor, barring any last minute legislative high jinks. (It’s already cleared for a Senate floor vote.)

… Rep. Gerald McCormick moved to reject Hawk’s proposal, which led the Greeneville Republican to withdraw his amendment.

McCormick said because Hawk’s amendment would have completely rewritten the bill, the committee should be leery of taking such action.

“I’m really afraid that we could make some serious mistakes doing that,” McCormick said.

Despite pulling back his amendment, Hawk vowed to continue to fight over the measure on the House floor.

“I will state that this issue is far from being done. We will have a conversation on the floor about how we need to better fund transportation and what is the most responsible way to do that as we serve our constituents,” Hawk said. “That’s a promise. We will have a debate on the floor and we will bring an amendment to the floor.”

ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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