By Meg Garner via Nashville Business Journal
Middle Tennessee wants transit funding, and it’s an all-hands-on-deck effort.
On Tuesday, regional mayors gathered at the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to back Gov. Bill Haslam’s controversial transportation funding bill, particularly the bill’s enabling legislation component. The enabling legislation portion would allow local governments, through public referendums, to add a sales tax surcharge to pay for mass-transit projects.
When Haslam revealed his proposal, local officials called on the governor’s office to expand the enabling legislation component to give cities and counties more tax options to choose from when presenting a plan to the public. As it is, the governor’s office has yet to propose expanded capabilities, but the governor has said he is listening to local officials’ concerns.
When asked if his constituents would have the appetite for an increased sales tax, Roberston County Mayor Howard Bradley said he believes Middle Tennesseans are “almost all there” when it comes to their tolerance for transportation problems, meaning their willingness to vote yes is more likely.
“I think that as time passes and congestion grows and the difficulty of getting to work becomes greater then people will see the need to act,” Bradley said. “The Metropolitan Planning Organization last year said over the next 15 years that commute times would double from the cities, like my cities, and that makes it economically unfeasible to live in the adjoining counties. Once people see that stark [contrast], then this is really not a hard choice.”
The regional mayors’ public display of support comes as an added boost for the governor’s plan, which continues to face mounting criticism as the legislative session goes on, with Capitol insiders saying there could be as many as six alternative funding plans released.
One plan already revealed is sponsored by Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville), who serves as assistant majority leader in the House of Representatives. The Hawk plan, as it stands, would take a quarter of 1 percent of the state’s 7 percent sales tax and dedicate it solely to transportation funding. His bill does not contain the local option portion that regional mayors were campaigning for on Tuesday, meaning it would require a standalone bill for the enabling legislation. (Hawk has said he is supportive of such legislation.)
To be sure, it is not yet clear which proposal — Haslam’s, Hawk’s or another alternative yet to be announced — will be preferred by lawmakers and whether that bill will ultimately include Middle Tennessee’s enabling legislation. For this reason, Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) filed a placeholder bill that, if needed, would allow for enabling legislation. In a recent interview, Dickerson said how expansive the bill might be would depend on the needs of local officials.
Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson said between the governor’s plan and the placeholder bill from DIckerson and McCormick, he’s confident a funding solution will be found this session.
“We’re all in support of getting the best bill out,” Anderson said. “We’re not trying to tell them how to do it, but we prefer the governor’s bill.”
Also at the day’s press event were Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillian and Sumner County Executive Anthony Holt. The day’s event was part of the Greater Nashville Regional Council’s lobbying push behind the governor’s bill.