By Cari Wade Gervin via Nashville Post
A highly anticipated discussion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed tax hike ended in an abrupt adjournment after about half an hour — and before any discussion of the plan occurred.
Haslam’s plan was just filed as an amendment to a caption bill yesterday, but House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Thompson’s Station) said on Tuesday he was “confident” either Haslam’s or Rep. David Hawk’s alternative transportation plan (which does not include a tax increase) would pass out of the House Transportation Subcommittee today.
“I know the chairman wants to vote something out [Wednesday],” Casada told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday. “I hope they can. Go sell popcorn, it’ll be fun!”
After the meeting ended today, Casada wryly joked to reporters, “I told you there’d be popcorn.”
The committee meeting began with a presentation by the Tennessee Trucking Association about diesel tax structures. The TTA supports Haslam’s plan, and they were repeatedly questioned by committee chair Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) in a seeming attempt to show that a gas tax increase would lead to an increase in the cost of goods transported by truckers. That’s not the case, the association said — truckers lose far more money stuck in bottleneck traffic that could possibly be eliminated with funding for new transportation projects than they would pay in increased gas taxes.
After the presentation ended, Haslam’s plan was next on the agenda. But Weaver announced Hawk’s plan would be heard first.
“So we’re gonna go a little out of order here. We want to keep you guys at the tip of your seat,” Weaver said.
After a brief presentation by Hawk on his bill — which would take a percentage of sales tax revenue from the general fund and direct it to transportation funding — Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) made an oral amendment to have the bill include a removal of sales tax from baby formula. Weaver shot him down, saying the amendment needed to have been filed in a timely manner. Windle responded by calling to adjourn the meeting, a move that cannot be discussed. The motion passed, and a slightly stunned Weaver was forced to end the meeting.
“The state of Tennessee has been giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Tennesseans. And tax breaks are good for everybody. But it we’re going to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Tennesseans, then why shouldn’t working people who get up and go to work every day get a tax break on baby formula?,” Windle said later Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think I should have to apologize because the fat cats don’t get all the goodies. Should the rich people out in Belle Meade get everything from Tennessee? Shouldn’t somebody from Celina get something?”
Weaver said Windle’s move was a surprise.
“You’re in committee, anything can happen. I mean, you can’t gauge it,” Weaver said afterwards.
Hawk admitted he was shocked by the sudden adjournment.
“I’m not disappointed at all. I’ve got an idea, there’s a half a dozen different other people that have an idea as well, and I think this is what making policy is all about — having discussions and having conversations. I wish we could have had a greater conversation in there, which is why I’m surprised and disappointed that we adjourned. The more discussion we have in the public, in front of the media, the better off we’ll be,” Hawk said.
Rep. Barry Doss (R-Lawrenceburg) is the chair of the full House Transportation Committee and is also carrying the governor’s bill. He said he thought of the adjournment vote as a response to the Hawk bill.
“And I think there’s a lot of people uncomfortable with that bill,” Doss said. “We come back next week and I think more people are comfortable with the governor’s plan.”
Haslam also seemed confident his plan will eventually advance.
“I think [adjourning] shows they’re still trying to decide what the right approach is. We’ve said all along this was going to be a long path and it would involve a lot of discussion and the bill could take different forms at different times. But we’re not discouraged by that at all. We’ve seen this as a process all along,” Haslam said afterwards.
Casada said he was surprised at what happened today but he remains convinced one plan will pass out next week.
“It was the committee system at work. And, I love this saying, ‘We all love the taste of sausage, but you don’t want to see it being made.’ … They didn’t advance the ball today, but they will next week,” Casada said “I really really think … members need to get comfortable with an option and then go back home and explain it to their voters — that’s who they answer to. So they’ll get comfortable this week, and something will come out next week.”
However, Weaver refused to say whether anything will advance soon or not.
“I don’t have a crystal ball. I didn’t foresee this,” Weaver said.