POLL: Should Tennessee's fuel taxes be raised to fix roads?
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday issued a challenge to lawmakers seeking alternatives to his proposal to hike the state's fuel taxes to help tackle a $10 billion backlog in bridge and road programs.
"Show me the math on your plan," the Republican governor said.
Haslam is proposing Tennessee's first gas tax increase since 1989 as part of a bid to raise $280 million a year in new transportation funding. The measure calls for increasing the tax on each gallon of gasoline by 7 cents and diesel by 12 cents.
"People are getting that we have a need, and more and more folks are saying, 'All right, I want to dig in here and find out the answer,'" said Haslam, who first detailed the proposal Jan. 18 but made his first televised speech about it Monday evening in his State of the State address.
"I'm more encouraged now than I was two weeks ago," Haslam said.
Not everyone is on board with Haslam's plan which would be offset by $280 million in tax cuts in other areas of state movement.
Republican state Sen. Mark Green of Ashland City released a statement shortly after the governor's State of the State address to oppose it.
"Now is not the time to raise taxes," said Green, who is running to succeed the term-limited governor next year. "Our priorities must continue to lower taxes, not increase them."
Green said he wants to see what federal transportation money could be made available to the states in President Donald Trump's administration, and noted the $2 billion in surplus tax collections and revenue growth that the state is projected to gain in the next budget year.
Haslam argues Tennessee roads are used heavily by out-of-state drivers, and that raising the tax at the pumps ensures the burden is carried by all travelers.
If lawmakers want to redirect general fund money to roads, Haslam said, they need to show which other spending they would cut or which proposed tax cut they would eliminate.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada said he expects a full hearing on a variety of alternative plans for funding road projects.
"The House acknowledges we've got to build more roads," the Franklin Republican said. "The governor has outlined a plan and I respect him for giving a vision and pointing the way.
"The House has ideas, and if it's an idea that has merit and can pass the budgetary muster, we will debate it and let the majority rule," he said.
As part of his plan, Haslam is also proposing to restore $18 million in federal road money by banning open alcohol containers in vehicles. That money is currently routed to drunken driving enforcement efforts by prosecutors and police. Haslam has said that money could be found elsewhere in the state budget, but he hasn't made a specific proposal as part of his budget plan.
Linking future gas tax increases to inflation is another element of the governor's plan that is causing heartburn among some lawmakers.
"I'm not opposed to a gas tax, I'm opposed to the indexing, because there's never a cap on that," said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. "I completely understand we need to do something about our infrastructure."
Haslam acknowledged that not every part of his proposal will be met with approval in the Legislature.
"This is a big bill with a lot of pieces to it," he said. "I never ever thought it was going to pass just like we proposed."