gas taxes

Haslam differs with Trump, Beavers on highway funding

Gov. Bill Haslam, who toured the state Monday for ceremonial signings of his “IMPROVE Act,” declared along way that he’s not too keen on President Trump’s infrastructure plans — or on state Sen. Mae Beavers declaring she’ll push to repeal of the IMPROVE fuel tax hikes if elected to succeed him as governor.

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The governor’s ceremonial IMPROVE Act signing tour today

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday, June 5, will hold ceremonies in each of the three grand divisions of the state to sign the IMPROVE Act, a key piece of his NextTennessee legislative agenda that delivers a safe, reliable and debt-free transportation network for the next generation of Tennesseans while providing the largest tax cut in state history and making Tennessee more competitive in recruiting manufacturing jobs.

 Monday, June 5

10:15 a.m. EDT – Hamilton County Welcome Center, I-75 North, Chattanooga

(This location is near the site of the I-75/I-24 interchange modification project in Hamilton County to improve traffic flow at one of the most heavily traveled areas of Chattanooga through which more than 100,000 vehicles travel per day.) 

1:00 p.m. CDT – Acklen Park Drive (on I-440 overpass), Nashville

(This location is over the stretch of I-440 from I-40 to I-24 in Davidson County. The project includes pavement replacement and safety improvements to the 30-year old interstate that serves more than 100,000 vehicles per day.) 

3:00 p.m. CDT – U.S. 51 S. (at the future I-69 construction site, 0.5 miles southwest of Quality Inn), Union City

(This site will become the future I-69 in Union City and connect Obion County to the vital north-south corridor, creating greater access to other communities in west Tennessee and other states.) 

The IMPROVE Act, “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy,” cuts nearly $300 million in taxes next year and more than $500 million in taxes annually at full implementation, including a 20 percent decrease in the sales tax on groceries and a $113 million reduction in business taxes on manufacturers.

 Nearly 1,000 road and bridge projects across all 95 counties will be delivered through a conservative, responsible and user-based approach of raising the gas tax by six cents and diesel tax by 10 cents, each over the next three years.

 Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Reps. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) sponsored the legislation.

Sen. Crowe to seek reelection; downplays gas tax retribution talk

State Sen. Rusty Crowe tells Robert Houk that he will run for reelection in 2018, saying he got an “outpouring of support” for another four-year term after Houk did an earlier column on speculation that he would retire.

“It got my energy up to see support coming from so many points,” he said.

Crowe, 70, will complete his 28th year in the Senate next year. His reelection decision is mentioned in a column devoted largely to talk that Washington County road projects got left off Gov. Bill Haslam’s three-year funding plan, recently announced, because local House members – Reps. Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss – opposed the governor’s gas tax bill.

Crowe, who voted for the IMPROVE  Act, has been trying to downplay that notion.

Even so, Crowe admitted the House leadership is more prone than that of the Senate to dole out punishment at budget time to members who don’t fall in line. That retribution usually comes in the form of no funding for pet projects.

Crowe said he respects the reasons his colleagues in the House have given for not voting to increase the fuel tax. He said he was in a similar situation 17 years ago when he refused to support Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s push for a state income tax. Crowe believes that stand cost him his job at East Tennessee State University.

The senator also said that House members “seemed to be pulling in very different directions… It was like herding cats.”

Ron Ramsey: House members were punished for opposing gas tax hike

Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says there was “some punishment” levied against state House members who opposed Gov. Bill Haslam’s fuel tax increases, reports the Johnson City Press. He spoke at a Transportation Coalition of Tennessee press conference, one of several being held around the state by the group that promoted the fuel tax and hired Ramsey as a consultant.

“I think there is some in the House who would not vote for any kind of, what they perceived as, a tax increase. And that’s just wrong because the overall bill cut taxes,” Ramsey… said. “There was no doubt, in the end, that there was some punishment levied against some House members on funding. Not against the Senate members, but against the House members.”

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Haslam lists highway projects to be completed in next three years

News release from Department of Transportation

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer today released TDOT’s annual three year transportation program, featuring approximately $2.6 billion in infrastructure investments for 101 individual project phases in 40 counties, as well as 15 statewide programs.

The three-year program is more robust than previous years, due to funding increases through the IMPROVE Act, which is projected to raise an additional $150 million to meet the state’s infrastructure needs in FY 2018. This increase, combined with $120 million repayment to the highway fund, provides the necessary funds to move several backlogged and new transportation projects forward in the first year of the program. Those include:

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Some contend legislators’ pet project money depends on gas tax support

The latest version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed 2017-18 budget earmarks $23.5 million for “legislative initiatives.”  The Tennessean notes that’s an increase from $8 million last year for lawmaker pet projects, spurring “some legislative insiders and some prominent Republicans” to contend the money will be distributed to lawmakers supporting the governor’s tax package, including fuel tax increases, over those who did not.

Defenders of the fund say the increase had nothing to do with getting lawmakers to approve the governor’s signature legislation for the year and more to do with a projected surplus of more than $1 billion and revenue growth approaching that same amount… (A) spokeswoman said any insinuation that the special fund’s increase was tied to the IMPROVE Act is false.

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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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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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