By Howard Bradley via The Tennessean
The decision by the Tennessee General Assembly on adoption of Governor Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act stands to be one of the most important the legislature has made in a generation.
The IMPROVE Act would increase fuel taxes by 7 cents on gasoline and 12 cents on diesel and fund desperately needed revenues for Tennessee’s roads and bridges.
Tennesseans only pay about $300 per year to use our states’ roads currently. The increase would mean about $4 extra per month for the typical family. For that $4, we would get to begin the backlog of unfunded highway projects, which now exceed $10 billion.
Forty percent of the revenues raised would go to local governments to maintain roads in cities and counties. Robertson County would attain more than $600,000 that is badly needed to resurface our roads. The user fees on gasoline and diesel have not been raised since 1989.
Do a little historical research on the cost of what you buy as compared to 28 years ago. The dollar has lost exactly half its purchasing power since 1989. Do you not buy food today or utilities or pay your mortgage because they cost twice as much?
Of course not.
There are those who say we should spend the state surplus first. Even with a surplus of $1 billion, the money would be swallowed up by three separate highway projects. The surplus exists because Tennessee has seen explosive economic growth since the end of the recession in 2009.
History has taught that periods of prosperity are followed by downturns in economic activity. So a budget surplus may not be there as we go forward.
The transportation bill has enormous implications for counties like ours. With more than 60 percent of our people commuting out of county to work, the maintenance of good roads is an economic necessity. Beyond the financial cost is the deterioration of our collective lifestyle, which is an incalculable cost.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) projects that commuting times will double in the region over the next 15 years if nothing is done to improve our roads. So a person in 2030 looking to relocate to Middle Tennessee to work in Nashville would be forced to ask themselves if it would even be possible to live in Springfield or Gallatin or Murfreesboro or Franklin.
Another very important feature in the IMPROVE Act is the option that counties will have to set aside new monies for mass transit through a voter referendum. This would allow the people of Greater Nashville, which includes those counties contiguous to Davidson County, such as our own, to vote for an additional half-cent sales tax if they want to be part of a regional mass transit system.
I am convinced that these choices, pro or con, will impact the quality of life in our region for generations to come.
If we do nothing we are being irresponsible with our futures, the future of our children and their ability to sustain an economic future here, and to history.
Let’s make our grandchildren proud of us.
Howard Bradley is the mayor of Robertson County, Tenn. and a former history teacher at Springfield High School.