Gov. Bill Haslam expressed frustration Thursday that lawmakers aren’t willing to think about raising the state’s gas tax to pay for roads.
He says he’s not hearing many alternatives.
Haslam has been touring the state in a bid to gather support for putting more money into highways. But at a stop in Nashville, he told a panel of legislators and local officials that he just keeps hearing the same things.
“This is the fourth one of these that we’ve done, and typically in the discussion … everybody starts talking about the need they have,” he said. “Then, there’s a, ‘But I’m not really excited about a gas tax. What else can we do?’ The reality is there’s not a magic bullet out there.”
The governor says he’s not proposing a higher gas tax yet, either. But he does believe the current rate is too low and something has to be done about it.
Haslam says that shouldn’t be issuing bonds or building toll roads. It also can’t only be taxing electric vehicles.
But the state legislature would have to approve a gas tax increase, and many lawmakers — including House Speaker Beth Harwell — are saying they don’t see much chance of it in the next year.
“This is a tax on the middle class and working poor. It really is, in some ways. And so we have to be careful that in fact it’s needed, that we can justify it and that long-term it would mean economic growth for our state,” says Harwell.
But there might be one powerful lawmaker in Haslam’s corner: Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
“I still think that’s something we need to address and not just kick the can down the road. If this year’s the year, it is the year. I’ve not seen a concrete plan yet.”
Ramsey says there are so many unfunded road projects across the state, it’s possible lawmakers could be brought around to swallowing a tax increase after all.