Group launches statewide radio campaign touting IMPROVE Act

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has revealed his gas tax proposal to legislators and the public.

NASHVILLE - A group of associations backing Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed IMPROVE Act is launching a statewide radio campaign with ads touting the legislation that raises fuel taxes for transportation while also cutting other taxes.

With the legislation heading to the state House and Senate floor as early as next week, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee plans to begin airing the 60-second spots starting Thursday, going through April 21. The $127,000 buy's hits the Chattanooga, Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Tri-Cities markets.

Dubbed the "It's Smart" series, the ads say "it's smart to support better roads, safe bridges and tax cuts."

"Gov. Bill Haslam's IMPROVE Act responsibly funds important road and bridge work in all of Tennessee's 95 counties," an announcer says on one of the three ads. "The IMPROVE Act funds transportation infrastructure and, at the same time, gives a tax cut to all Tennesseans through a 20 percent tax cut on food."

The ad goes on to say the bill "provides the largest tax cut in the history of the state" and "continues Tennessee's long-held principle that maintaining our roads and bridges should be the responsibility of the people who use them."

As amended, Haslam's bill, which legislative proponents have dubbed "The Tax Cut Act of 2017," would increase the levy on gas by six cents per gallon and diesel by 10 cents over three years to boost the stagnant highway fund.

Other provisions would increase annual vehicle registration fees with with car owners paying an additional $5 more. Another provisions a first-time $100 fee on electric vehicle users. The legislation would raise an estimated $350 million annually.

But the legislation also also cuts general fund taxes, including lowering the sales tax on groceries from 5 percent to 4 percent, giving corporate manufacturers the choice to use a proposed business tax provision that would save them money and lowering the state's Hall Tax on individuals' investment income.

Collectively, the cuts add up to about $400 million. Proponents say the average four-member family with two cars would pay slightly less per month when the grocery tax decreases outweighing the fuel tax increases.

Another of the ads hits the tax cut provisions, noting, "It's been said you'll save more at the store than you pay at pump. And Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has called it a clear and undisputed tax cut."

Haslam and McNally are both Republicans.

But critics, including House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, argue the state should devote part of the general fund surplus to transportation. Proponents say that's unfair to Tennesseans who don't use roads and avoids collecting fuel tax money from out-of-state travelers.

Susie Alcorn, executive director of the Tennesee Infrastructure Alliance, said in a statement the state has an estimated $10.5 billion backlog of transportation infrastructure projects.

"The governor's proposal funds these needs while at the same time providing the largest tax cut in the history of the state," she said. "The IMPROVE Act is the responsible way to fix our state's outdated roads and bridges."

The Transportation Coalition steering committee includes representatives from the Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance, Auto Club Group/AAA Tennessee, Tennessee Public Transportation Association, Tennessee Trucking Association, Tennessee County Highway Officials Association, Tennessee Municipal League, Tennessee City Management Association, American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee and Tennessee Road Builders Association.