By Joel Ebert via The Tennessean
Gov. Bill Haslam’s gas tax proposal will have its first real legislative test on Wednesday when a House subcommittee is not only expected to take up the measure but also vote on it.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Glen Casada said he thinks the committee will vote on Haslam’s gas tax legislation, which is the second item on the agenda of the House Transportation Subcommittee.
“The intent is to do a vote tomorrow,” he said.
One subcommittee member, Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, said a Wednesday vote on the transportation proposal would be premature.
Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for Haslam, said the administration is looking forward to the subcommittee’s discussion.
“It is important that any plan presented and discussed identify specific projects across the state to be completed and, if money from the General Fund is used, what would be cut from the budget – such as teacher and state employee salary increases – and what tax cuts, like the grocery tax, would not be taken,” she said.
Athough Haslam’s legislation was introduced as a caption – a type of bill that is written broadly enough to allow for changes – at least two amendments have been filed as of Tuesday afternoon.
One is the governor’s proposal, which calls for a 7 cent per gallon hike on gasoline and is accompanied by a series of tax cuts. Haslam’s amendment is nearly 100 pages and includes the list of projects that would be paid for through the gas tax hike.
The other is Rep. David Hawk’s alternative proposal, which calls for using a portion of existing revenue generated through the sales tax instead of increasing the gas tax.
As is standard practice, neither amendment has been posted to the legislature’s website. Amendments typically aren’t added to the legislature’s website until after a committee adopts them.
“We’ve got to read the legislation and make sure we understand what it does before we start voting,” Windle said. “We’ve been talking about this now for literally three to four months, and the amendments are only filed and you’ve got 24 hours to make a decision. I don’t think that’s appropriate to rush through this process.”
Both amendments could be taken up Wednesday. Hawk’s amendment was filed first, which means his measure will be taken up before Haslam’s plan.
Casada said if the governor’s gas tax caption bill is amended to include Hawk’s proposal, it stands a better chance of making it out of the transportation subcommittee.
Should the governor’s bill make it out of subcommittee, it could further be amended when it heads to the full House Transportation Committee or even in either finance committees, Casada said.
Casada said he has been in talks with the governor’s office, adding that the administration feels their plan is “much more fiscally responsible.”
Overall, Casada said there has been no consensus in the House on the transportation funding proposals.
“I’m glad this is not on the House floor because we’d have to roll it a couple of weeks,” he said.
In addition to Haslam’s gas tax bill, the subcommittee’s calendar includes seven other bills and a presentation from the Tennessee Trucking Association. At an unannounced pre-meeting held Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said four of the seven bills on the calendar were removed.
The subcommittee normally holds pre-meetings, or bill reviews, on Mondays but because of Presidents Day, the gathering was delayed. No formal announcement of the date change was made.
Included in the bills on the subcommittee’s calendar is Hawk’s transportation bill, which he said he would shelve it in the event that the committee accepts his amendment.
In advance of the subcommittee’s meeting, several members of House leadership met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the transportation bills. The group included House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; Casada, R-Franklin; House Republican Caucus chairman Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville; Hawk, R-Greeneville; and others, including at least one member of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma.
On Tuesday, Weaver, who chairs the transportation subcommittee, said she has to read any amendments before deciding whether there will be a vote on the governor’s bill.
“I don’t plan anything,” she said. “We just gotta be in there, sit in the driver’s seat and see what happens.”
At the pre-meeting, Weaver said, “Tomorrow we’re going to rock and roll in committee and see where we land.”
Meanwhile on Tuesday, five Middle Tennessee mayors spoke out in favor of allowing local governments to hold referendums on raising taxes to pay for transit projects. The local-option provision is part of Haslam’s transportation proposal.
Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson said the issue is important for counties with heavy congestion.
“Let the people decide,” he said.
Joining Anderson at the statehouse were Kim McMillan of Clarksville, Howard Bradley of Robertson County, Anthony Holt of Sumner County and Charlie Norman of Maury County.
Haslam is set to hold two community forums in the next two days to continue his ongoing pitch for his gas tax proposal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.