Gov. Haslam's transportation funding bill left spinning in Tennessee House panel

Gov. Haslam's transportation funding bill left spinning in Tennessee House panel

March 8th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at the Tennessee Press Association convention Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — House Transportation Committee members fought Tuesday over funding of Gov. Bill Haslam's transportation improvements bill and fretted over potential second-guessing by other committees and the Senate.

Ultimately, however, the panel only managed to vote successfully on the second go-round to postpone action for a week on a proposed amendment that seeks to clear up confusion over a previous subcommittee's actions.

Most Haslam administration officials, including the governor's senior adviser, Stephen Smith, left quickly amid the ensuing confusion.

Asked about his take on what had transpired, 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.

Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who handled the administration bill in the subcommittee, later told reporters the funding increases and cuts will be resolved either next week by the full Transportation Committee or perhaps even later in the Finance Committee.

Later, the House Transportation Committee met to hear a companion transportation bill, which only a week before scraped through a contentious subcommittee as supporters borrowed a provision from a competing bill that sought to avoid the gas tax increase.

Instead, the bill seeks to use a quarter percentage point of the state's existing 7 percent sales tax to fund road improvements.

In addition to raising fuel taxes and several other fees to the tune of $278.5 million, Haslam's bill would cut the sales tax on food, corporate taxes on manufacturers and accelerate an already approved phase-out of the Hall Income Tax on interest and dividends.

Due to an error, the amended House bill emerged with its own problem. The meat of Haslam's proposal was never made part of the measure. Instead, two amendments eliminated the proposed fuel tax hike and an inflation index provision.

Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, fretted that whatever the House Transportation Committee approved could be totally changed further along in the Finance Committee or on the House floor.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.


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