VOL. 132 | NO. 45 | Friday, March 3, 2017
Governor Haslam’s Fuel-Tax Bill Still Alive After Parliamentary Wrangling
By Sam Stockard
NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act and fuel-tax increase plan remains alive after parliamentary moves Wednesday, March 1, in the House Transportation Subcommittee and action that led to the death of a competing bill.
The panel voted to send a gutted version of Haslam’s bill to the full House Transportation Committee. An amendment attached to it – at least temporarily – removes the 7-cent gas and 12-cent diesel tax increases being sought by the governor to raise $400 million annually for road and bridge projects.
The amendment – brought by Republican Rep. David Alexander of Tullahoma – contains the plan by Republican Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville to take a quarter of 1 percent of the state sales tax and use it for road and bridge projects. Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson cast a tie-breaking vote for a 5-4 outcome.
But the panel voted to kill Hawk’s bill. At the same time, the subcommittee declined to bring forward the amendment making the governor’s bill contain his fuel-tax increase plan.
Republican Rep. Barry Doss of Leoma told subcommittee members he would not bring the amendment containing Haslam’s fuel-tax increases if the Hawk amendment was approved. That won’t preclude him from bringing it up later on.
Hawk, who told committee members he “detests” political maneuvering when he introduced his measure, was disappointed but not surprised.
“I had hoped to pass my bill forward so we’d have two ideas that could move forward in conjunction. The other bill now has control of the issue, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Hawk declined to say whether he thought his amendment would be stripped out by the full House Transportation Committee and Haslam’s amendment added.
The committee meeting room was packed by members of Americans For Prosperity, a conservative group opposed to Haslam’s fuel-tax increase proposal. They emerged shaking their heads, many wondering exactly what happened.
Andrew Ogles, executive director of Americans For Prosperity, predicted Hawk’s amendment would be taken off the bill as it moves down the committee line. He also felt the committee’s action provided cover for the members, making it look as if they were backing Hawk’s plan while leaving the governor’s alive.
“They turned it into a Trojan horse, and Beth Harwell just helped the governor raise the gas tax,” said Ogles.
Asked for a response, Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen said the speaker has promised throughout the process all proposals would receive a fair hearing, “which is exactly what happened today.”
“There are still many more hurdles ahead, and we anticipate the bill will continue to change throughout the process. She looks forward to continuing the discussion regarding transportation and infrastructure funding,” Owen said.
Ogles also challenged the integrity of Alexander for saying both measures deserve a full hearing and then helping kill Hawk’s bill.
“Obviously, we felt they would pull some parliamentary tricks. And so we already have a game plan in place to fight a prolonged fight, so that’s what we’re gonna do,” Ogles said.
Americans For Prosperity will continue to hold town halls to raise opposition to the fuel tax increases and organize activists while educating the public “as to who’s a true conservative and who isn’t,” he said.
Alexander, who said he likes the governor’s proposed tax breaks, sponsored another amendment to remove part of the governor’s plan that would attach the Consumer Price Index to the act.
“That indexing provision must die,” Alexander said.
Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for The Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.