Poll: Most Tennesseans support gas tax increase

A new Vanderbilt University survey shows a majority of Tennesseans are open to a state gas-tax increase for transportation needs to a point, reports Andy Sher.

It comes as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam seeks to make a case that Tennessee’s road program…needs more money to keep up the pace. ..A number of his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly (are) balking.

…A majority of the 1,013 registered voters surveyed voiced a willingness to pay an additional 2 to 8 cents per gallon at the pump. The state gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1988, is now 21.4 cents per gallon.

Two out of every three poll respondents — 66 percent — said they are willing to pay an extra 2 cents per gallon at the pump. Thirty-three percent were opposed. A majority — 54 percent — still said they were willing to pay an additional eight cents per gallon while 45 percent said they weren’t.

But the majority evaporates like so much spilled fuel on a 15-cent hike. Only 46 percent said they could back that while 53 percent were against it.

Josh Clinton, a Vanderbilt political science professor and co-director of the poll, said… The survey underscores that “when you ask if they support an increase in sales tax on gasoline and don’t specify an amount, people are going to assume the increase will be high and they respond negatively…”But if you give them a tangible amount, you could get quite a bit of support for an increase.”

…Haslam said the poll results didn’t surprise him.

“I think people out there get it and get the need,” Haslam said. “And I think if you tie that to specific projects, you’d even see more positive reaction.”

The governor added, “Part of our mission right now is to complete the road plan that everyone can agree on, then hopefully, that will be encouragement to our legislators that this is something that people really do want to see happen.”

A number of Haslam’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature, including House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy, have balked at doing anything in 2016.

Asked whether an 8-cent increase would help, Haslam replied, “Oh yeah. Again, we need to decide what we’re going to do, but sure, 8 cents would make a difference.”