NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- An effort to strip a proposed gas tax hike from Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to boost transportation funding in Tennessee faced an expected vote today in a key House committee.
The change supported by Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell would rewrite the legislation to instead draw the bulk of the funding for new road and bridge construction from sales taxes paid on new and used vehicles. It also would create new taxes on electric and hybrid vehicles, and increase registration fees.
The proposal does not include any of the tax cuts that the governor has proposed to balance against a gas tax hike. They would include a 20 percent reduction in the sales tax on groceries, a $113 million cut in corporate taxes paid by manufacturers and dialing back the tax on earnings from stocks and bonds by 1 percentage point. The cuts would total a greater amount than what would be raised by the fuel tax increases.
The proposed alternative drew a swift rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Collierville Republican who like Harwell is strongly considering a bid for governor next year.
"We are actually returning money to the taxpayers, a tax cut is money in their pocket," Norris said. "When they reshuffle the deck by raiding the general fund, the taxpayer never sees that.
"I've never seen a real Republican run from a tax cut like she is," he said.
Norris said advancing heavily divergent version the bill could cause the legislative session to drag out.
"It just prolongs the agony and keeps us here at loggerheads much longer, which doesn't serve the people of Tennessee well. "To pull the rug out from under the administration and float this retread, to what end?"
The effort to take the gas tax out of the transportation funding proposal has exposed deep fault lines within the House GOP. The Tennessean reports that Republicans held a secret straw poll on Monday evening to try to gauge support for the measure.
Several members expression confusion over the vote, with some saying they weren't familiar with all the elements of the governors bill, and others arguing that they don't yet know what the final shape of the bill will be.
"We simply don't know where people are," House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville told the paper after the caucus meeting adjourned. "With 73 members how do you know?"
Williams did not announce the results of the straw poll, and said that the goal is to make sure members don't have a to make a politically difficult vote on a bill that might not pass.
"If we know that the bill is having trouble, it's my job as the caucus chair to make sure you don't vote on something that will fail," he said.