By Meg Garner via Nashville Business Journal
It might seem like an exaggeration, but there really is one piece of legislative language that could define the future of Middle Tennessee — because without it, the region’s mobility issues could take even longer to get the attention the public is clamoring for.
So what’s the key to Middle Tennessee’s future? Enabling legislation that would allow local officials to raise their own revenue, through a public referendum, for transit funding.
Currently, there is a provision within Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act that would allow local governments to add sales tax surcharge for transit(through public referendums), but as questions continue to swirl about the viability of the governor’s plan, some lawmakers are acting to make sure the enabling legislation portion of his bill has the chance to be voted on by both houses.
Filed by Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), the bill is currently what amounts to a placeholder. Depending on the fate of Haslam’s proposal, Dickerson and McCormick could then flesh out the bill more fully.
“Obviously Middle Tennessee and the counties around Nashville are the ones wanting it, and I’m filing it to give them the ability to do so,” McCormick said, adding it is time for the General Assembly to take local officials seriously when it comes to their requests to secure their own funding rather than have the state finance mass transit.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is a co-sponsor on McCormick’s bill. Casada said in an interview that regardless of the future of the governor’s bill, he is supportive of pulling the enabling legislation component out into a separate bill, calling it “separate issue.”
When Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville), who serves as assistant majority leader, presented his own transportation funding plan, he also argued enabling legislation should come in the form of a standalone bill, rather than part of his funding plan.
McCormick said it is not yet known whether the bill would allow for a variety of tax increases, like the options Middle Tennessee leaders have been asking for, or just a sales tax surcharge, like the governor’s plan currently allows. He said he would defer to the senator’s guidance on that aspect of the bill since Dickerson is from Nashville.
Requests for comment from Dickerson’s office were not returned.
The quest for enabling legislation comes at a time when Middle Tennessee leaders are determining how to pay for their portion of the 10-county region’s $6 billion mass-transit overhaul, which estimates say should be half the plan’s price tag.
In November, Moving Forward, a Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce-backedtransit coalition, revealed the results of a study conducted by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute to devise options for paying for the Nashville region’s nMotion plan. The seven local funding options included everything from direct taxes on residents to fees that impact the area’s growing tourism industry.
At the time, officials with Moving Forward suggested each county within the 10-county region should have the ability to pick and choose which tax increase would best suit their specific needs.
“It is always good to have flexibility and options through the legislative process. At this point, Moving Forward is focused on supporting the governor’s proposal,” Alexia Poe, spokeswoman for Moving Forward, said in a statement.