NASHVILLE - With his IMPROVE Act scheduled for both final House and Senate floor action on Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam is urging Tennesseans in an email to kick into gear and contact their local state representatives and senators in support of the road funding measure.
In his email blast, the Republican governor touts the plan, which would boost gas and diesel taxes by 6 cents and 10 cents per gallon respectively over a three-year period for roads while also providing what Haslam calls "the largest tax cut in our great state's history."
Reductions include cutting the state's sales tax on groceries by 20 percent as well as changing a business tax to benefit corporate manufacturers and continuing to phase out the personal Hall Tax on investment income.
"The Tennessee we can be provides not only access to opportunity but the tools to be successful - good roads that take you to good jobs," Haslam says in the email. "As a conservative plan, the IMPROVE Act helps make us the Tennessee we can be."
He ends the email by asking recipients to "please call or email your state representative and senator today and encourage them to support the IMPROVE Act, the largest tax cut in Tennessee history."
Haslam's press office did not immediately respond to a reporter's inquiry as to whom the emails were sent.
The legislation has strong support in the GOP-controlled Senate. But it has had problems in the Republican-dominated House where Speaker Beth Harwell quietly backed gas tax-increase opponents' alternative which called for using existing sales tax revenue from sales of new and used cars.
But Harwell, who is seeking the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination, told reporters late last week she is now "leaning" toward backing the governor's plan.
Meanwhile, other lobby groups, including the Tennessee arms of AAA and AARP are stepping up their support in advance of this week's expected vote.
AAA plans to hold a news conference at its Chattanooga office on Tuesday to outline a new study. The report shows the average driver in the Chattanooga urban area loses nearly $1,500 annually "as a result of driving on roads that are deteriorated, congested, and that lack some desirable safety features."
The report was created by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit transportation research group.
Also on Monday, AARP began promoting the IMPROVE Act in an email, citing its replenishing of the state's stand-alone highway fund for transportation infrastructure improvements as well as the grocery tax reduction, among other taxes that support the general fund.
"We feel it is also important that it includes increasing property tax relief for low income seniors, low income disabled and the 100% disabled veteran," the AARP email says, alluding to a provision that is in the Senate bill but not the House version.
A copy of Haslam's email was provided by a Chattanooga-area skeptic of the proposal which as amended would raise gas taxes by 6 cents a gallon and diesel by 10 cents over a 3-year period.
"IMPROVE directly addresses how we fund our roads and bridges for the first time in 30 years, keeping our transportation network safe, reliable and debt-free for the next generation of Tennesseans, and it provides Tennesseans the largest tax cut in our great state's history," Haslam says in the email.
He said if the legislation is approved, it will mean Tennessee government will have cut more than $800 million in annual taxes since he and fellow Republicans assumed power in 2011.
The governor also notes that Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based group that usually opposes tax increases, "says the IMPROVE Act is a net tax cut for Tennesseans, resulting in savings for an average Tennessee family."
And Haslam also cites "conservative opinion maker Ralph Bristol," a Nashville-based conservative talk radio host, as characterizing the measure last week as "by far, the most conservative plan on the table to increase funding for transportation."
The governor was working last week to secure additional House votes for the measure.