Excerpt from the Jackson Sun report on Gov. Bill Haslam’s stop in Jackson today as part of his 15-city road show on problems in funding the state highway construction and maintenance program:
Haslam said his trip across the state isn’t meant to gather support for a gas tax increase. He shuffled around questions about it Wednesday, but he said something has to be done.
“The issue becomes this, at some point in time we have to decide if we’re going to do what Washington does and just keep kicking the can down the road … If we’re going to be responsible to future generations, we’re going to have to have a mechanism to really put a plan in place,” Haslam said.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville, wasn’t at Wednesday’s meeting, but he told The Jackson Sun he isn’t ready for a gas tax discussion because it isn’t the most important issue.
Norris said leaders need to talk to constituents to see what their transportation concerns are. Talking about a gas tax could divert from the importance of having the foundation discussion, he said.
“I don’t want loose talk about a gas tax hike in 2016 to overshadow that dialogue,” Norris said. “We’ve got a lot more studying and discussion to do before we get to that point.”
Haslam said the state is one of five that is a “pay as you go” state, meaning the state has no debt in its highway fund.
Since there currently is no debt to add to, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley, said the state could look into financing some of the projects by going into debt with bonds with low interest rates.
Norris said other ways of adding to the highway fund have been suggested such as using the state’s surplus funds and taxing electric cars.
Note: See also Sen. Mark Green’s op-ed piece in The Tennessean, headlined “It’s premature to increase Tennessee’s gas tax.” An excerpt:
Something has to be done. However it’s still too early for the panic button and way too early for a gas tax increase… Only the most spend-crazy Washington politicians would suggest increasing taxes with an existing budget surplus.