Local Option Gas Tax?
Tri-Cities officials are asking area state legislators to authorize a local option gas tax of up to five cents per gallon as a means to improve roads, reports the Bristol Herald Courier.
Friday’s annual wish list presentation from Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City leaders to representatives and senators headed to Nashville… includes a variety of policy objectives, but the gas tax was an eye-opener to one Bristol lawmaker.
“I just can’t see that working in today’s current economic environment,” said State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, one of the lawmakers at the meeting at the Millennium Centre.
“We are a pay as you go state when it comes to roads and bridges and so far, that has worked, so I can’t see a tax increase going anywhere fast.”
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips handled the transportation segment of the presentations given to legislators and said the consensus of the three-city committee was to have a gas tax option ready to use for an ever-growing list of road construction needs.
“If we are not going to raise taxes or sell bonds somewhere down the road (to improve roads), we are going to have a big problem,” Phillips said. “I think this is really the year to look seriously at that local option so that we can get some help. I personally feel that if there was (no press coverage) and you raised taxes five cents on gasoline no one would know it. Three weeks ago, gas went up 13 cents in one day. The way prices are fluctuating, I think we are missing a prime opportunity not to address that option.”
Insurance Coverage for Oral Chemotherapy?
Tennessee’s cancer-fighting advocates want to hang onto funding for screening and smoking cessation, do a better job educating residents and – after a crushing defeat on this last year – force insurers to cover oral chemotherapy at the same rate as intravenous treatments, reports The Tennessean.
What’s not on their list is raising the cigarette tax, the nation’s sixth-lowest, an effort shown to discourage smoking, raise revenue and, ultimately, save on healthcare costs. That effort failed last year too, said Nancy Hauskins DuBois, an advocacy specialist for the American Cancer Society, so her group is putting it on snooze and waiting for a better time.
…Tennessee is making slight gains against the nation in its cancer fight, moving from fifth in the nation for deaths three years ago to sixth today, U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention statistics show.
At the same time, it moved from 22nd to 16th for diagnosed incidents of cancer, but that’s not a bad thing, said Dr. Ingrid M. Meszoely, a Vanderbilt University surgeon and co-chair of the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.
Elect Utility District Boards?
Most utility district boards in Tennessee are appointed by county mayors or other local officials, but a dispute over the DeKalb Utility District’s expansion plans has triggered a call for having the boards elected by ratepayers, reports The Tennessean.
But efforts allowing ratepayers to elect utility board members elsewhere in Tennessee have failed in the General Assembly, in part because of opposition from a powerful association representing rural utilities, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD).
Some lawmakers hope to try again this year.
“The customers of the utility districts have no say in who is on their board,” said state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald. “The board controls the rates, controls a lot of issues.”
As a House member for the past decade, Hensley has sponsored legislation allowing direct elections of utility commissioners in Lawrence County. Those efforts have failed. But Hensley, elected to the Senate in November, said he’ll try again this year.
The issue of direct elections for Tennessee’s 180 utility districts, many in rural areas, would add accountability to the boards and better protect ratepayers, say advocates for the change.
Bill Limits Spur Knox Discussion
The Knox County legislative delegation is weighing the impact of state Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, with one new House member reporting he’s already being contacted by lobbyists on the matter, reports Georgiana Vines.
Roger Kane, the Republican elected in November to the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, said four lobbyists have contacted him about sponsoring legislation and one wants him to sponsor two bills.
If Harwell’s 10-bill limit proposal were to be adopted, “that would be half my slots,” he said. “In principle, it sounds good,” he said. “It has caused some things to change. Typically, freshmen were given some ramp-up time. (Now) the freshmen have become of a little more value.”
However, he said he doesn’t want constituencies to be without an opportunity to have bills introduced late in the session, so he hasn’t yet “developed an opinion” on Harwell’s proposal.
Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican who represents the 16th District, said he has favored limiting bills for several years. He said he has discussed with Harwell having a limit of seven “active” bills at any one time, and if one passes or fails, then another could be introduced.
“What the speaker is doing is a step in the right direction,” he said.
State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Republican representing the 19th District, and Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Democrat representing the 15th District, said some legislators may already have commitments that end up surpassing 10 bills.
“Put the rule in, but make it effective for a second session and here on out,” Armstrong said.