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VOL. 131 | NO. 11 | Friday, January 15, 2016

Haslam: No Gas Tax Push, For Now

By Bill Dries

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed Thursday, Jan. 14, that there won’t be a state gas tax hike proposal in this year’s session of the Tennessee Legislature.


But Haslam, who previously said he wasn’t necessarily pushing for such a tax hike as a solution to funding road projects, said that is the most likely future option.

“At the heart of it, what you pay for a unit of fuel – you’re going to have to do something along those lines,” Haslam said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “There’s no magic bullet out there. … At the heart of it you are still going to have to have some way you pay per the fuel you buy.”

The program, hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes, airs at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15.

“We are not going to propose a bill this year to raise taxes,” Haslam added. “I’ve said and I’ll continue to say that needs to happen in the next two to three years. I’m willing to carry that banner while I’m governor.”

The Tennessee gas tax of 40 cents a gallon – 22 cents in the state tax and 18 cents in the federal tax – hasn’t gone up in nearly 30 years.

Haslam also said he plans to use some of the estimated $500 million state surplus to increase state funding to education.

“I think you’ll see us put our money where our mouth is in terms of education investment, K-12 education and higher education,” he said.

But that probably won’t mean fully funding the Basic Education Program 2.0 – the state’s modified formula for funding individual school systems.

Shelby County Schools is one of several larger school systems in Tennessee suing the state to force full funding of the formula modified during the Bredesen administration from its original form in the McWherter administration.

But Haslam said Thursday that smaller school systems have told him and his administration they would likely go to court as well depending on how the amount of standing funding they currently receive changes.

“We’re going to have a really strong funding proposal and fully funding BEP is one of the paths you can take,” he said. “But there are some issues with BEP 2.0 as it’s allocated, in terms of how some of our smaller schools systems would react.”

On the increasingly strident competition locally between the state-run Achievement School District and Innovation Zone schools, Haslam said he backs both and doesn’t think the state should try to choose one or the other as a reform model.

“Anything that’s helping to contribute to making schools that historically struggled … we need to be making certain we are applying every effort we can,” he said. “We’ve actually put more money into the I-Zone than we have the ASD.”

And Haslam defended his proposal to dramatically change the scope of the Tennessee Board of Regents. His proposal would give independent boards to each of the state’s public four-year colleges and universities including the University of Memphis.

TBR would govern the state’s community colleges and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.

“Community colleges and TCATs are now a critical part of our higher education plan in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “The Tennessee Board of Regents itself is three times larger than when it was first envisioned. And when it was first envisioned they said … the breadth of this might get to be too unwieldly pretty soon. That was 40 years ago and a third as many students.”

But Haslam said there is a legitimate concern that it might make for a more intense scramble for state funding without some step between the legislature and the newly independent colleges and universities.

That step would be funneling a single slate of capital project funding recommendations for them through the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

“We don’t want it to be a free for all at the state capital,” he said adding that there will still be some lobbying by the separate institutions.

“All of the requests are going to have to come through THEC, and THEC will be strengthened in this process,” Haslam added.

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