By Andy Humbles via The Tennessean
Wilson County would gain more than $1 million from a proposed gasoline and diesel fuel increase that Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing as part of his legislative agenda.
Haslam was at the Wilson County Courthouse Thursday evening for a town hall meeting as one of multiple stops the governor is making to speak on his Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy or IMPROVE Act legislation.
The proposed tax plan includes a mix of fuel and vehicle related tax hikes with business and grocery cuts aimed to address an accumulation of road projects that need funding, which Haslam believes is becoming an urgent need.
“My plan might not be perfect, but we have to do something,” Haslam told the crowd of roughly 75 as he took questions for about an hour.
The IMPROVE Act proposes a 7-cent gasoline and 12-cent diesel tax hike that would fluctuate with inflation. The legislation would also increase vehicle registration estimated at about $5 more for a typical passenger vehicle, a new $100 fee for electric vehicle owners, a 3 percent charge on rental cars and outlawing Tennessee allowing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle the governor says prevents the state from using about $18 million in federal funds.
Proposed cuts include a reduction in the grocery sales tax from 5 percent to 4.5 percent, decreases to the Hall Income Tax on dividend and interest earnings and a proposal to create $113 million in business tax cuts, which Haslam said is a concern because manufacturers in Tennessee are taxed higher than most other states.
The IMPROVE Act overall is estimated to generate $278 million in new revenue for road projects with an additional $39 million for cities and $78 million for counties.
Several in the crowd questioned whether a budget surplus should be considered for roads, while Haslam explained the IMPROVE Act would draw money from people outside the state who use Tennessee roads.
“I really like the idea of everybody paying the same for using the roads,” resident Louise Soren of Lebanon said. “He did a good job of explaining. It’s a good way to take the bull by the horns and get on with it. We need improvement in our roads.”
Wilson County could take in an extra $1.03 million in annual revenue from the proposed gas and diesel tax increase according state estimates as local advantages were discussed. Mt. Juliet would gain just under $306,000, Lebanon just over $284,000 and Watertown about $16,000.
Davidson County would take in more than $2.5 million, Rutherford County more than $1.5 million, Williamson County over $1.2 million and Sumner County approximately $1.15 million.
District 57 State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, facilitated the meeting, spoke and took questions prior to the governor’s arrival.
“I do expect tomorrow a lot of people will call my office or email… or write on my Facebook wall,” Lynn said of the reaction on both sides to the plan.
Haslam spoke earlier Thursday in Smyrna and Friday he’s scheduled to speak to groups in Murfreesboro and then in Smith County. He also touched on other parts of the NextTennessee legislative agenda that addresses education, community development and economic growth.
“We understand this is a difficult decision and it’s a complex one to understand the state’s budget,” Haslam said. “In Tennessee we have always had roads being paid for by people who use them. In Tennessee I don’t feel like the general fund, which is paid mainly by Tennesseans, should subsidize our roads which are used by people by all over the country. I understand why people would say ‘I don’t quite get how’ you’re doing so well here but have a need there, and part of it is to go out and (give) people have a chance to ask questions.”