By Scott Broden via Daily News Journal
A vast majority of a Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce crowd raised hands Friday before Gov. Bill Haslam to show their support for his gas-tax hike proposal.
The Republican governor wants to raise gasoline taxes by 7 cents per gallon and diesel taxes by 12 cents per gallon to help the state pay for a $10 billion backlog of road and bridge projects.
Drivers will pay on average $4 more per month or $48 per year more for gas, but they’ll benefit from better roads, an estimated 10,000 more jobs to build them and a stronger long-term economy, Haslam said. He also noted that Tennessee will remain the lowest tax state in the nation even if the legislature approves his gas-tax plan.
“We still come out ahead,” Haslam told a chamber “Capitol Connection” audience gathered in a large meeting room at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Murfreesboro off Medical Center Parkway and Interstate 24. “I think it’s a mandate for the state of Tennessee.”
The informal poll came at the request of state Sen. Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican who told the chamber crowd he wanted to know how they felt before he took a position on the governor’s gas tax plans.
“So, for me to vote for the governor’s gas budget, that was a pretty good indication,” said Ketron, who noted that he learned from the chamber that 342 people made reservations to attend the event. “When I asked that question, I only saw two people raise their hand that were against it That’s a pretty good indication that the people in this room support the infrastructure plan for our bridges and highways.”
One of the people to raise his hand in opposition was Gabriel Fancher. He asked the governor about why the state should raise gas taxes when the government has surpluses that can be used on road projects.
Haslam told Fancher that the state needs a long-term solution with recurring revenues to pay for roads rather than one-time money from surpluses.
“We have a $10 billion backup,” Haslam said. “We need a funding source you can count on.”
Using the surplus on roads means giving a break to travelers from other states by keeping their tax rate at the pump the same, the governor said.
“I don’t think it’s right for Tennesseans to subsidize roads used by everybody,” Haslam said.
The second-term governor also noted that the trucking industry backs his plan because truckers expect to save money on wear and tear by driving on better maintained roads.
Haslam said he’d rather not raise gas taxes if he could avoid it in his final 23 months in office, “but we have to address our big problems.”
Tennessee will be at a disadvantage in the next 10 years in competing for industry and jobs, and responding to growth without needed roads, Haslam said.
“We’ll shut down,” unless we have an answer for that critical problem, the governor said.
The governor told the crowd how the 21.4 cent per gallon gas tax was last set in the late 1980, so people are paying less now when factoring inflation, said Haslam, who noted that the difference would be like paying an 11-cent per gallon rate nearly 30 years ago.
“You are driving a lot cheaper than you used to,” said Haslam, adding that people are also saving with more-efficient cars that are using 25 to 30 percent less fuel.
Although people are saving on gas taxes from the late 1980s, they’re driving on roads that cost three times more to build since the gas tax rates were established, Haslam said.
The gas tax hikes will be offset by $270 million in tax cuts for rates on groceries, businesses and the continued phase-out of the Hall Income Tax, Haslam said.
The gas tax revenues will mean Rutherford County getting a $1.5 million cut and Murfreesboro a $1.2 million cut, Haslam said.
Reach Scott Broden at 615-278-5158. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.
Gas tax revenues
This list shows projected revenue increases for road projects for local governments if governor’s proposed 7-cent gas tax hike and 12-cent diesel tax hike are approved:
Rutherford County gasoline tax revenues: $1,099,988
Rutherford County diesel tax revenues: $411,068
Murfreesboro gasoline tax revenues: $860,845
Murfreesboro diesel tax revenues: $323,726
Smyrna gasoline tax revenues: $315,611
Smyrna diesel tax revenues: $118,688
La Vergne gasoline tax revenues: $257,296
La Vergne diesel tax revenues: $96,758
Eagleville gasoline tax revenues: $4,769
Eagleville diesel tax revenues: $1,793
Source: Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration
The following list shows Tennessee Department of Transportation planned projects in Rutherford County and costs:
South Church Street bridge over CSX railroad: $13.3 million
U.S. 41A (South Main Street bridge over Kelly Creek): $1 million
Franklin Road bridge over Branch: $695,000
Bradyville Pike bridge over Murray Creek: $449,000
North Thompson Lane from Broad Street to Memorial Boulevard: $25.6 million
New Salem Highway from Cason Lane to Interstate 24: $30.8 million
West Jefferson Pike from Nissan Drive to east of Interstate 840: $26.5 million
Interstate 24 ramp upgrades at Exits 66, 70, 81, 84 and 89: $22.2 million
Bradyville Pike from Broad Street to Rutherford Boulevard: $10.6 million
New Salem Highway from Interstate 24 to Old Fort Parkway: $7 million
Interstate 24 improvements at Exits 74, 78 and 80: $45.6 million
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation