Road funding bills left in limbo after subcommittee meeting ends abruptly

Road funding bills left in limbo after subcommittee meeting ends abruptly

February 22nd, 2017 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at the state Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, about his plan to boost transportation funding while also cutting taxes. Haslam's plan would hike gas taxes by 7 cents per gallon. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Various proposals to fund Tennessee roads were left in limbo for a week by the House Transportation Subcommittee this afternoon after a majority of the panel abruptly approved a motion to adjourn and left.

The move came after Chairman Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, an opponent of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed fuel tax increases, took up an alternative bill that sought to divert a quarter percentage of the existing sales tax into Tennessee's highway fund.

Rep. John Mark Windle, R-Livingston, then offered an amendment to remove the sales tax 7 percent sales tax from purchases of baby formula. Weaver ruled Windle's amendment out of order, noting the deadline for amendments had been at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Windle responded with a motion to adjourn, a non-debatable motion. After some confusion, the committee then voted 5-3, adjourned and left the room.

"You know how committees go," Weaver said after the abrupt end of the meeting where votes on one or more road funding bills had been expected. "That was a surprise to me too."

Asked why she'd called up the alternative to Haslam's road funding bill first before the governor's, Weaver said, "I do that a lot. I'm the chair and I can steer it anywhere I want to."

The move was interpreted by some observers as at least a temporary victory for Haslam and supporters of his effort to raise gas taxes by 7 cents per gallon and diesel by 12 cents. Haslam's proposal also calls for cutting taxes in the general fund, which pays for most functions outside the state's highway fund. 

Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville, is carrying the main alternative to that. His bill would divert existing sales taxes instead of going with the fuel increases that Haslam portrays as user fees. 

Rep. Barry Doss, R-Lawrenceburg, who is chairman of the full House Transportation Committee and who is carrying the governor's bill, said "we were about to get the governor's bill out today. But evidently there were some people who were uncomfortable, maybe, with the Hawk plan. And they weren't ready to vote on the Hawk plan."

Doss said he sees the adjournment vote as a response to the Hawk bill. 

"And I think there's a lot of people uncomfortable with that bill," Doss said. "We come back next week and I think more people are comfortable with the governor's plan."

Windle has not said where he is on Haslam's bill, although he does favor one of the taxes Haslam has proposed cutting - the 5 percent state sales tax on by a half percentage point.

Hawk's bill neither cuts nor raises any taxes.


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