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Gov. Bill Haslam presents his 2017 State of the State address to a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly last week.
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NASHVILLE — Proponents of Gov. Bill Haslam's transportation plan jammed the revised legislation and its fuel tax increases through a House panel with minimum debate Tuesday, and the bill's sponsor now says he sees a clearer path to the chamber's floor.

"The heavy lifting is done and it's just a matter now between the Senate and the House over what we include in the bill and what we do not," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Barry Doss, R- Lawrenceburg.

Earlier, Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, cut off debate on the bill, which calls for increasing gas taxes by 6 cents and diesel by 10 cents over three years, along with several fee increases in other areas, through his panel on a voice vote.

It appeared there were more supporters than opponents, and Doss said he believes most committee members voted "yes."

"The votes were clearly there," Doss said, saying he "greatly" respects Wirgau and believes "he was anticipating a lot of negative comments. There weren't any."

Doss added that "most people want to do what's right for this state. They want to protect the taxpayer, they want to solve our infrastructure fundings."

Haslam, a Republican, said the new funds are needed to help the state tackle an estimated $10.5 billion in interstate, highway and bridge projects across the state and to also help local governments with their infrastructure needs.

At the same time, while the state's highway fund needs money, taxes feeding the state's general fund have exploded over the past few years, which has hampered Haslam's efforts to sell his IMPROVE Act to fellow Republicans.

So the governor and Senate Republicans have included cuts to the sales tax on groceries, lowering it from 5 percent to 4 percent, altering a corporate business tax provision to help manufacturers and paying initial costs for the previously approved phase-out of the 6 percent Hall Tax on individuals' interest and dividend income.

One provision added by Senate Republican leaders involves restoring previous state cuts to a program that helps provide local property tax relief to veterans and some seniors. But that's infuriated some House Republicans who don't think the issue should be tangled up in the transportation bill.

Several of the sharpest critics have stand-alone bills to address the veterans property tax relief issue.

"There's a move right now to take that away from the IMPROVE Act so they can carry their bills," said Doss, who noted he is sympathetic and has signed onto the effort to allow the stand-alone property tax legislation to proceed.

Doss said he intends to speak to Senate GOP leaders about that.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

This story was updated March 28 at 11:45 p.m.

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