- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam warned Wednesday that if lawmakers don’t get on board with the state’s first gas tax increase since 1989, they will be in for long wait before they will see nearly 1,000 important road and bridge projects come to fruition around Tennessee.

When Haslam unveiled his transportation funding pre-proposal last week, he distributed a thick packet of more than $10 billion worth of projects that would be funded with the new revenue. The governor acknowledged that there may be some complacency among lawmakers who believe the projects will eventually get done even without a tax hike.

“I can say this, it’s not going to happen for a long time,” Haslam told reporters after a visit to a Murfreesboro magnet school. “It’ll happen at some point, but it will be about 10 or 15 years later than you want. That’s the bottom line.”

Lawmakers haven’t exactly embraced Haslam’s proposal, which includes increasing taxes on gas by 7 cents and diesel by 12 cents a gallon, even though the governor has proposed cutting a corresponding amount of taxes in other areas.

Haslam has been criticized by the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity for seeking an increase in the gas tax while the state has a surplus of more than $1 billion in the general fund. And several lawmakers have raised concerns about Haslam’s plan to tie the state’s gas tax rate to inflation, creating automatic increases in the future.



The governor said he recognizes that lawmakers are beholden to their constituents, who may not be excited about the prospect of paying more at the pump. But Haslam said it’s up leaders in state government to make the case for improvements to its transportation system, given that current funding allows for little more than maintenance of existing roads.

“We have to realize that things don’t just happen,” Haslam said. “Decisions aren’t always easy, but we should do what people before us did and come up with a responsible answer.”

“The one thing I insist on is: Let’s don’t ignore the issue,” he said. “And don’t ignore the math behind the problem.”

A recent state comptroller’s report found that the purchasing power of the state’s gas tax collections has fallen by about half since the last time the tax was increased in 1989. Tennessee’s fuel tax collections have remained essentially flat since 2000, amid improving fuel efficiency, decreasing miles driven and mounting roadbuilding costs, according to the report.

Haslam stressed that the trucking industry supports his proposal, even though it means fuel cost increases.

“They’re the ones who do the math, and they’re the ones who say is it worth it for me to pay more and have better roads so there’s less wear and tear on my vehicle and my drivers and my products get where they should be on time,” Haslam said.

“If the people who make a living off of that say ‘I’m willing to pay more because it will save me money,’ I think it speaks volumes,” he said.”

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