More gas tax talk, zero action

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll announce a package of legislation next week that his administration will push in the 2016 legislative session, but it won’t include anything involving a gas tax or other road fund revenue enhancement, according to WPLN.

“I think there’s some more education that has to happen before we can get enough people in the legislature comfortable that this is the right thing to do for now.”

The Times-Free Press, meanwhile, quotes the governor as characterizing the administration as “still in the middle of those conversations” over whether some sort of road funding bill will be proposed before the session ends, likely in April.

Haslam said, “there’s a lot of sentiment out there that folks say we need to do a better job of explaining to citizens around the state why we need to do something different than we are now.”

Both the TFP and the Kingsport Times-News have stories today quoting local legislators expressing different views on fuel taxes. A sampler:

–“I’m opposed to it is the first thing,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, following a delegation meeting with Times Free Press reporters and editors on Tuesday. “I’m not certain that we need it right now.”

McCormick said he thinks “the burden of proof ought to be on those who want to spend this money. I also think it’s very difficult to look at raising taxes” when the state has a budget surplus.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said with both I-24 and I-75 running through his district, the current situation is “just a fiasco right now.”

Dozens of bridges need replacement and lanes need widening. And that doesn’t include widening I-24 around Lookout Mountain. Add it all up and it comes to about $750 million, Gardenhire said.

“I would not be doing my district and my constituents a favor by saying a hard no,” Gardenhire said, adding he will examine what is feasible and ensuring there are safeguards on how money is spent.

–“I think what the governor needs to do is put an actual proposal on the table,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said. “He’s never done that. That keeps people from being in a fear of the unknown … There’s a Vanderbilt poll that came out and said if the (gas) tax (increase) is under 10 cents, something like 62 percent of the people agree with that … If he comes up with a concrete plan, I think it has a shot at passing, I do.”

…State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, indicated he’s gotten little pushback from constituents on a possible gas tax increase.

“I have a small percentage saying ‘We don’t want any tax’ and then I say ‘How are you going to pay for this (transportation upgrades),’ they really don’t have an answer,” Hulsey said. “I think in the final analysis, everybody has to understand we have to do something and move on it. It’s going to involve the gas tax and some other things.”

…State Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, indicated vehicle user fees will get a lot of debate.

“I feel like a lot of what we deal with in the legislature is when technology outpaces the law,” he said. “That’s part of the reason we’re there … We have commercial trucking coming through Tennessee and they are not paying to keep (the road system) up … that discussion has to be had in Nashville.”