- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2016

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to pursue a gas tax hike during this year’s legislative session.

The Memphis Daily News reports (https://bit.ly/1Ou1CJ6 ) that Haslam confirmed he is “not going to propose a bill this year to raise taxes.”

The governor’s comments were made on a WKNO-TV program hosted by Daily News publisher Eric Barnes that airs Friday evening.

Haslam had traveled the state to draw attention to what he has described as a $6.1 billion backlog of projects already approved - but not funded - by the Legislature. But lawmakers are wary about approving a tax hike in an election year.

The state’s gas tax of 21.4 cents per gallon was last raised in 1989.

“There’s no magic bullet out there,” Haslam said.

“At the heart of it, you are still going to have to have some way you pay per the fuel you buy,” he said.

A recent University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy noted that the state’s gas tax is 12th lowest nationwide and fifth lowest among Southeastern states. The state’s revenues from the tax on diesel is the second-lowest in the region after South Carolina, the researchers said.

According to the report, fuel economy has improved by 20 percent since the gas tax was last raised in 1989. And future restrictions are expected to increase car and truck mileage by another 50 percent over the next two decades. Pressure on the state’s roads is also expected to increase over the next 10 years, as Tennessee’s population is projected to grow by 11 percent.

While many lawmakers consider the issue detrimental to their campaign prospects, a recent Vanderbilt University poll found voters are largely willing to pay more at the pump to improve roads and bridges.

The survey conducted in November found 66 percent of Tennessee voters were willing to pay 2 cents more per gallon and 54 percent were willing to pay 8 cents more. About 46 percent said they were willing to pay 15 cents more.

Haslam also said in the Daily News interview that 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.

The governor also 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. The Tennessee Board of Regents would govern the state’s community colleges and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.

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Information from: The Memphis Daily News, https://www.memphisdailynews.com/,


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