Richard Locker summarizes Gov. Bill Haslam’s road show reasoning on why the state should end inaction on increasing revenue for highway construction and observes that lots of legislators are against a gas tax in a Sunday article that begins thusly:
Tennessee last increased its gasoline tax in 1989, by 4 cents per gallon.
In the 26 years since, the U.S. consumer price index has risen 92 percent, leaving the 21.4 cents per gallon tax worth about half what it was in 1989.
Meanwhile, the average mileage a new car gets on a gallon of gas increased from 28 mpg in 1990 to 36 in 2013, the latest year for which the U.S. Department of Transportation has posted figures.
While that’s all good for consumers and the environment, it’s not good for state officials trying to maintain Tennessee’s highways and bridges. The state’s motor-fuel taxes are its second-largest source of revenue to build and repair roads and bridges, and Gov. Bill Haslam is traveling the state saying that money’s now inadequate to maintain the current transportation system — much less meet the demands of a state projected to grow by 2 million people in 25 years.
While Tennessee legislators often malign the federal government, federal taxes fund the largest share of the state’s transportation spending — $976 million, compared to $822 million from the state’s taxes. But Congress has failed to pass a traditional six-year national transportation funding bill since 2005, settling instead for short-term extensions ranging from three months to two years each.
“The federal government has become an unreliable partner” in the state-federal partnership in building and maintaining transportation infrastructure, Haslam tells dozens of state and local leaders at each of the 15 forums he’s holding across the state to make the case for new state revenue.
The federal gasoline tax also hasn’t been increased in decades, and Congress has no appetite for raising it, even though lawmakers at all levels of government continue to push for more spending for highways, bridges and other transportation projects, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said last week.
…Corker and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., proposed in January raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over two years and indexing the rate to inflation to make up for the huge deficits in the Highway Trust Fund, which provides more than half of the country’s spending on transportation projects. The senators suggested the gas tax increase could be offset by offering other tax breaks to American families and businesses.
But Republican leaders shot down the proposal, so the two senators decided against writing and filing a bill.
“It was very evident from day one that the Republican majority was not going to entertain that kind of fiscal responsibility,” especially not between now and next year’s presidential election, Corker said of his own GOP. “To try to file a bill and to get people on record in a negative way, knowing that leadership was going to be fighting against solving the problem, it doesn’t make sense.”