- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Armed with a new $5.3 billion wish list for statewide road projects, Gov. Bill Haslam embarked on another tour Monday seeking to jumpstart support among deeply skeptical lawmakers for boosting transportation funding in Tennessee.

The new list was compiled with input from lawmakers and local officials during a previous tour by the governor in the summer to highlight the current $6.1 billion backlog of projects already approved by the Legislature.

“Smart, conservative government doesn’t wait for a problem to get at the front door, we see it coming,” Haslam said at stop in Kingsport. “We see it coming.”

“What we’re inviting the Legislature to do Tennessee to do is come help us be a part of crafting this road plan so the next generation of Tennesseans will be as well served as we have been,” he said.

Haslam has yet to make any specific revenue proposals, though most lawmakers expect he will have to include an increase in the state’s gas tax if he wants to gain a significant increase in revenues.

Each penny of the state’s 21.4-cent tax on each gallon of gas is worth about $31 million in annual revenue. The tax was last raised by 4 cents in 1989.

Republican legislative leaders including House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga have voiced opposition to a gas tax hike session, which falls in an election year.

One notable exception has been Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who voiced support for the governor’s efforts at the Kingsport event Monday.

“It’s not something that has to be done today or has to be done tomorrow,” Ramsey said. “But soon -very soon- we’re going to hit the wall and have a very big problem.”

“I’m here all behind the governor on this to figure out a way to solve this problem,” he said.

Haslam’s new list includes 765 proposed projects in all 95 counties of the state that came up while he was on his earlier tour. But none have yet been approved by the Legislature.

“It’s recommended that they won’t even be considered until 2022,” Haslam said. “That means they won’t be built until at least 2040 if nothing changes.”

The current backlog of 181 projects in 62 counties have been approved by lawmakers but have yet to be funded. Those projects won’t be either completed or under contract until 2034 under current funding conditions, he said.

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