- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Add the chairman of the state Senate transportation committee to the list of opponents of raising Tennessee’s gas tax in 2016.

Republican Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, who heads the transportation panel in the upper chamber, said Tuesday that there isn’t enough time to put together a comprehensive road funding proposal for the upcoming legislative session.

“I don’t think it’s doable,” Tracy said in a phone interview. “Because we’ve got a lot of work to do to put it together.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has been on a statewide tour to discuss what he calls a $6 billion funding shortfall for infrastructure projects in Tennessee. But the Republican governor has said he wants to complete the 15-stop tour before deciding whether to propose raising the state’s gas tax for the first time since 1989.

That hasn’t stopped prominent GOP lawmakers like House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville from voicing their opposition.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has called on lawmakers to keep an open mind, arguing that properly funding infrastructure projects is a key role of government.

The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, has been leading the charge against a gas tax hike, much as the it did in its opposition to Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to extend health care to 280,000 low-income people.

The group launched a website this week showing that 48 state lawmakers - including 13 of 33 senators and 35 of 99 representatives - oppose raising the gas tax next year.

Tracy, who has attended several of the governor’s roundtables on road funding, said the state’s road funding needs will need to be funded by more than just an increase in the gas tax. Electric cars and vehicles running on natural gas will also have to pay their share, he said.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor has four more stops to make on his road funding tour following his return from a trade mission to Israel this week before deciding a course of action.

“There is no proposal out there,” Smith said in an email. “Before you talk about solutions you have to understand the need.”

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