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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talks about education and his budget at a recent Times Free Press editorial board meeting.

NASHVILLE — A conservative group hopes to siphon off would-be support for a gas tax increase in Tennessee's Legislature this year with a 60-second radio spot targeting comments by Gov. Bill Haslam that he may still pursue a boost this session.

Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee's ad calls any tax increase "illogical."

"We will fight a gas tax increase in Tennessee for as long as necessary," AFP-Tennessee director Andrew Ogles said in a statement. "This ad is intended to inform taxpayers in our state about why a gas tax hike costly and unnecessary."

The group isn't saying how much it's spending to air the spot. It criticizes any fuel-tax increase and seeks to tie discussions to Tennessee's $1 billion budget surplus. 

Haslam says the surplus is in the state's general fund, which is derived mostly from sales and business taxes and pays for most state government functions other than transportation.

He also says the transportation fund, which pays for highways, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure, has a $6 billion backlog of unfunded needs.

In the ad, Ogles says: "Tennessee has over a billion-dollar surplus from the past two years. That's right. Over the past two years, Tennessee taxpayers have been overtaxed by a billion dollars. But some in our state think this is the time to raise taxes with a tax increase at the gas pumps."

He adds, "The only way to hold down what what big government will spend is to limit what we send. We should decide how to spend our money."

Haslam considered pushing for more transportation money last year but abandoned the idea after top Republicans, including House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, said they wouldn't back a tax increase.

But earlier this month, Haslam deputy Jim Henry told House Transportation Committee members the administration planned to speak with members about their transportation needs and was looking at possibly bringing a funding proposal forward.

Administration officials initially downplayed Henry's remarks to the Times Free Press, but Haslam this week told reporters his administration is indeed sounding out lawmaker support for what would be the first fuel tax increase since 1989. 

Haslam said, "If people are saying, 'I do want to do this in my district,' then we'll come back with a full plan."

"If people say, 'I'm interested in this, but I don't want to do anything at all on addressing fuel tax,' then we won't do it," Haslam added. 

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