Tennessee: Fuel taxes may fly on birds' wings

Tennessee: Fuel taxes may fly on birds' wings

April 30th, 2009 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - Two proposals providing for automatic increases in Tennessee's fuel taxes may fly into the House Transportation Committee next week on the wings of a hummingbird and a sandhill crane.

One plan could be offered as an amendment to a bill abolishing specialty license plates for the sandhill crane. The other would go on legislation authorizing issuance of a new "hummingbird awareness" specialty plate.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, said he hopes to use both bills to carry two fuel-tax recommendations made last week by the Transportation Funding Options Special Joint Study Committee.

But he acknowledged that whether the bills fly out of committee remain to be seen.

"The amendment may be presented next week, it may not," Rep. Harmon said, adding that he is not sure if he will press the proposals.

"It's bad economic times to be asking people to possibly look at an increase in their gasoline costs," Rep. Harmon said. But "the tax on gasoline has not been raised since 1989. Construction costs have gone up, as you well know. Consumption of tax has gone down ... and that's generating pretty good-sized shortages in the Department of Transportation."

One of the special panel's proposals links annual percentage increases in the state's gasoline and diesel taxes to those in the Consumer Price Index. The second option calls for a five-cent increase in the fuel taxes that would be phased in at one cent a year over the next five years.

The gas tax now is 21.4 cents per gallon, with 20 cents going toward transportation-related purposes. The bill using the Consumer Price Index as a baseline would apply to the 20-cent per gallon portion of the tax and not the full 21.4 cents.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who is sponsoring the Senate versions of the crane and hummingbird license bills, said, "I don't know if the bill's even going to move forward."

The Consumer Price Index plan is backed by the Tennessee Roadbuilders Association, said that group's executive director, Kent Starwalt.

"There is a need for $800 million in additional funding (a year) for transportation," he said.

But the Tennessee Petroleum Institute, which represents major oil companies, and the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association oppose it.

"We are pretty concerned about automatic increases every year," said Mike Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Petroleum Institute.