- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Dec. 10

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on funding and rising tuition:

We trust that Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislators were listening carefully last week when University of Tennessee president Joe DiPietro told the governor and state finance officials that the university’s business model - declining state appropriations, increasing costs and spiraling tuition - is “broken” and is jeopardizing the school’s mission.

It was an important message for those attending Haslam’s higher education budget hearings. If the governor and the legislature cannot or will not begin taking action, Haslam’s effort to increase the number of college graduates in the state is in danger of taking a credibility hit, and rising tuition will make it harder for students and their families to afford college. And that is a fact, despite the governor’s Tennessee Promise initiative, which will allow high school graduates to attend a community college tuition-free.

DiPietro was backed by John Morgan, Tennessee Board of Regents chancellor, and Richard Rhoda, state Higher Education Commission executive director. We do not think the UT president was being hyperbolic when he told hearing attendees that the state’s universities are at a “crossroads” unless a long-term solution is found.




Dec. 10

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on tax restructuring:

Tennessee has one of the nation’s best highway systems, built and maintained without incurring debt. Unlike many states, Tennessee employs a “pay as you go” system.

That system relies on fuel taxes - for all practical purposes user fees - to finance right-of-way purchases, new construction and maintenance.

Fuel taxes at the state and federal levels have not kept up with inflation. Coupled with greater fuel efficiency in passenger vehicles, that has put this reasonable and fair system of paying for infrastructure projects in jeopardy.

Gov. Bill Haslam should propose an overhaul for legislative approval when the 109th General Assembly convenes in January. With gas prices falling rapidly toward $2 a gallon, now is a good time for state and federal lawmakers to restructure fuel taxes as a long-term solution to infrastructure funding.

At the state level, the 21.4 cents per gallon gas tax has not been raised in a quarter century. Neither has the diesel tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon. The federal tax rate has not increased since 1993.

Meanwhile, labor and materials costs for road construction projects have risen inexorably. More fuel-efficient vehicles mean that less revenue is generated per gallon consumed.

In budget hearings last week, Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said funding levels have reached the point where the state cannot afford to build new roads. About $30 million is expected to evaporate from the Department of Transportation’s $1.84 billion budget next year. Maintaining existing roads is the only option.

Tennessee Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker already has supplied Haslam with the template for a long-term solution in a proposal to raise the federal gas and diesel tax rates, and index them to rise with inflation. Haslam should adopt that approach.

Another adjustment that would restore some fairness to both state and federal fuel taxes would be to tax diesel fuel at a higher rate than gasoline. Tractor-trailers by far cause more damage to roadways - and the accompanying need for repairs - than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Some also have floated the not unreasonable idea of charging new fees for electric vehicles, whose drivers do not pay fuel taxes.

Of course, raising tax rates and establishing new fees in the Republican-controlled Legislature would be a difficult challenge, just as it will be in the new Congress. Haslam, whose approval rating stands at 70 percent, is in a position to get the job done.

The nation’s well-traveled roads and aging bridges are in dire need of repair. Unless Tennesseans are willing to go into debt to finance new construction, which would be an exceedingly unwise choice, restructuring the state’s fuel taxes is the best funding option.

Gas prices are low and going lower, so now is the time to fix the funding system with the least amount of pain for consumers. Otherwise, Tennessee drivers will feel the consequences of inaction every time a pothole rattles their vehicles and they will pay for it at the repair shop.




Dec. 10

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on president getting political snub:

The sad thing about President Barack Obama’s visit Tuesday to Nashville was the complete politicization of the occasion.

The president of the nation comes to town for a speech, and the governor doesn’t even show up. Neither do our U.S. senators.

Why this snub? The governor and our two senators are Republicans, and party loyalty is more important than official niceties these days.

Once upon a time, any official of any importance would consider it mandatory to welcome the president to town. Political differences were put off for the time being. No longer.

The only dignitaries present on Tuesday were Democrats. The occasion turned into a partisan rally. About the only Republicans who turned out were protesters bearing anti-Obama signs.

A show of official courtesy used to be automatic on such occasions. If the president happened to make any critical remarks, the response was to grin and bear it.

After all, he’s the elected leader of the nation. Politics were to be played out in Congress.

Now it’s politics from day one, politics now and forever.

Our nation is the worse for it.



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