Tennesseans do not need to pay more tax on gas, according to State Rep. Jerry Sexton.
Sexton, who represents Claiborne, Grainger and part of Union counties as the elected representative of the 35th House District, is fighting hard to make sure the controversial “gas tax” isn’t passed.
Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, has proposed a transportation plan that has proven to be polarizing within the state and even within his own party.
Haslam’s plan calls for raising the gas tax by 6 cents per gallon over the next three years and diesel by 10 cents. It would also cut the sales tax on groceries, the tax on income from stocks and bonds and corporate taxes paid by manufacturers.
The plan is touted as a making deeper tax cuts than would be raised through the increase in fuel taxes. The added money for the highway fund would be used to chip away at the state’s more than $10 billion backlog in road and bridge projects.
Sexton disagrees with Haslam’s way of funding the state’s transportation infrastructure, and he is working with House Speaker Beth Harwell and other representatives to eliminate any increase on the price of gasoline.
“My view is that we do not need to raise taxes to fund these projects,” Sexton said. “We have a $2 billion surplus this year. My plan is to use that surplus to fund the projects.”
Sexton’s plan also includes “user fee tax revenue” which would charge fees for electric and hybrid cars that don’t use any or as much gasoline. He is also proposing using a portion of sales tax from new and used cars as some of the revenue.
Haslam’s plan proposes a small reduction, 1 percent, in food sales tax and decreases in the franchise and excise taxes as well as an income tax on investments.
“That won’t affect the average family,” Sexton said, adding that in his opinion the proposed increase per gallon will hurt the average family more than any cut will help.
“Over 90 percent of our families wouldn’t benefit,” he said. “It’s just not right.”
Sexton sits on each committee that has seen the bill thus far: the House Transportation Subcommittee, House Transportation Committee and House Local Government Committee.
He took a strong stance against the bill in the House Transportation Committee, saying the chairman, State Rep. Barry Doss, broke the rules of the House of Representatives to try to push Haslam’s plan (also known as the Improve Act) through the committee.
“We are calling on Speaker Harwell, House Leadership, and those that support this bill to hit the restart button in regards to the Improve Act and to send the bill back to Transportation Subcommittee to be debated fairly and openly,” Sexton announced afterward in a press conference.
“I let the Speaker know that when you silence me you are silencing the 65,000 people I represent,” Sexton told the Claiborne Progress in an interview, adding that several other representatives stood with him during the conference.
“We want it to be open and fairly debated,” he said.
Sexton said that the proposed plan he and the others are working on “will give more funds to cities and counties than the present plan.” He added that more funding will trickle down to local road departments, saying that just last year Claiborne County’s department was the recipient of $700,000 in grant funding.
The bill will be voted on this week, he said, adding that Haslam’s bill will be in the Finance Committee this week.
Members of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee include: chairman Charles Sargent, vice-chair Kevin Brooks, David Byrd, Karen Camper, Mike Carter, Jim Coley, John Crawford, John J. DeBerry Jr., Craig Fitzhugh, Brenda Gilmore, David Hawk, Patsy Hazlewood, Gary Hicks, Matthew Hill, Curtis Johnson, Harold M. Love Jr., Susan Lynn, Gerald McCormick, Steve McDaniel, Larry J. Miller, Art Swann, Ryan Williams and Tim Wirgau.
“Our plan is to be an amendment to the gas tax, which would rewrite the bill and become the bill,” Sexton explained, adding that they need 12 members of the Finance Committee to vote for the amendment to Haslam’s plan.
If the bill, amended or not, passes the Finance Committee it will go to the Calendars and Rules Committee and then to the House floor for debate.
Eventually, the House and the Senate will have to agree on the particulars. If they don’t, either branch would have a hard time getting their version through.
Sexton said that he ran a poll to see where his constituents stood on the topic and over 70 percent were against an increase on gasoline tax. The majority of the remaining 30 percent were undecided, he said — not necessarily for an increase.
“An increase on the price of gas and diesel fuels will result in an increase in the cost of transporting goods, which will lead to an increase in the price of goods,” Sexton said. The Haslam plan “claims to make it up by lowering taxes, but that (decrease) won’t be tapped by the average person.”
Sexton is encouraging his constituents to make their voices heard to all members of the House, especially those on the Finance Committee. “Call all of them,” he said.
State Senator Frank Nicely, who represents Claiborne County, is against the Haslam plan, Sexton added, saying the two are “100 percent in agreement on this.”
The funding for transportation is necessary, Sexton said, but it needs to be spread equally among the state. Tennessee has the second best roads in the nation and no debt, he said.
“We’ve got the funding — we don’t have to raise taxes,” he said. “We’re growing in population and not raising taxes. I’m fighting to keep it that way.”
Last week, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican who said he’s had no discussions with the House about any alternative plans, appeared to be surprised by the efforts to make significant changes to the bill, according to an article from the Associated Press.
McNally said the governor’s proposal is “a clear and undisputed tax cut for Tennesseans and offers additional cuts for the veterans and the elderly.”
Rep. David Alexander and Rep. David Hawk have also proposed changes to the bill.
“We’re committed to represent our people in the best way possible,” Sexton said in encouraging citizens to be vocal regarding their feelings on the issue.
Contact information for members of the House of Representatives can be found online at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/. Contact information for members of the Senate can be found online at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/.
Some information for this article from the Associated Press and tennesseestar.com. Reach Marisa Anders at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @newsgirl88.