Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told The Tennessee Star on Thursday he is a paid consultant to the Tennessee Coalition on Transportation, an advocacy group that supports Gov. Haslam’s 7 cents per gallon gas tax increase and a 12 cents per gallon diesel tax increase.
Ramsey’s revelation came during a break in the two hour broadcast of the WWTN Gas Tax Town Hall, moderated by Nashville Morning News host Ralph Bristol on the Dan Mandis Show. The event featured a studio audience, which was virtually unanimous in its opposition to the gas tax.
Ramsey advocated strenuously on behalf of the gas tax increase. He was one of eight panelists at the event. Other members of the panel included Andy Ogles, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the gas tax, David Smith appearing on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam, State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), State Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), State Rep. Barry Doss (R-Lawrence County), Rep. Brian Terry (R-Murfreesboro), and Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester).
“I did leave the legislature back, I made my announcement in March, and left in November, of course, at the election,” Ramsey said in his opening remarks as a member of the panel:
And anybody that’s ever asked me a question between now and then, what have you accomplished that you liked– I go through a litany of things, I’m going to go through them in just a second– and what did you not accomplish?
One thing I always say that I did not accomplish was to be able to solve this problem that we have in road funding.
“I think my conservative credentials are impeccable, if you look back at my career as Lt. Governor,” Ramsey told his fellow panelists and the studio audience.
“We’ve passed a constitutional amendment with the help of you the people to make sure we never have an income tax here in the state of Tennessee,” he noted.
“I am a conservative. I like user fees. I like something that when you use it based on whether you use it or don’t use it not just a sales tax,” Ramsey said, then criticized a plan that is apparently being circulated in the House of Representatives.
“The House has some kind of goofy plan, I’ll just call it that, when you buy diapers when you buy a television, part of that money goes to roads. How silly!” he exclaimed.
“We can raise this tax just a little bit,” Ramsey concluded, referring to Gov. Haslam’s proposed gas tax increase.
WATE-TV Knoxville described the Tennessee Coalition on Transportation as “a grassroots initiative of the Tennessee Public Transportation Association” which includes six other “partner organizations, including AARP Tennessee, Tennessee Association of Human Resource Agencies, Tennessee Disability Coalition, Tennessee Public Health Association . . . Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee and Walk Bike Tennessee.”
Ramsey noted that ethics laws allow him to serve as a consultant, though they prohibit him from lobbying his former colleagues in the General Assembly for a period of 12 months from his resignation as Lt. Governor.
It is not clear whether that 12 month clock started in November, when Ramsey was replaced in the Senate, or in January, when State Sen. Randy McNally was named President of the Senate and became Lt. Governor.
But the state law that prohibits former legislators from lobbying their colleagues may prohibit Ramsey from engaging in a panel that included five of his former General Assembly colleagues–two in the Senate and three in the House.
3-6-301 of the Tennessee Code Annotated provides this definition of lobbying:
(16)(A) “Lobby” means to communicate, directly or indirectly, with any official in the legislative branch or executive branch for the purpose of influencing any legislative action or administrative action;
State Sen. Tracy is the former chairman of the Transportation Committee, to which he was named by Ramsey.
State Sen. Bailey is the current chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, to which he was named by current Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.
Rep. Doss was recently named chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Recently retired Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is joining the newly created Advisory Council of the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee — presumably to help the promotion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which includes a gas tax hike.Rumors have been swirling that Ramsey would be working as a “consultant” on occasion during session, possibly in advance of setting up shop as a registered lobbyist next year, after the one-year cooling off period has ended. And now he’s advising a group pushing for an increase in the state’s transportation funding — some with very vested interests in seeing more new roads built.
The Tennessee Coalition on Transportation does not appear to be incorporated in Tennessee under that name, based on a review of publicly available records.
The group states in a press release on its website that the “Coalition Launches to focus attention on transportation funding.”
Revenue sought to improve transportation systems and boost economic competitiveness
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A statewide coalition has launched to educate the public and state legislators as it seeks an increase and reform in Tennessee’s transportation fees. The coalition aims to recruit other interested parties to join in seeking a comprehensive funding solution to maintain and expand Tennessee’s critical transportation system.
The most prominent feature on the group’s website is a “contact your legislator” button that connects to a VoterVoice automated emailing system.
The Transportation Coalition of Tennessee website indicates it is owned by Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance, which is a Tennessee nonprofit corporation formed in 2001.
However, the registered corporate office for the Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance is:
TN ROAD BUILDERS ASSN
213 5TH AVE N STE 100
NASHVILLE, TN 37219-1912 USA
The Tennessee Road Builders Association is one of the most powerful political organizations in the state, and a clear beneficiary of increased funding for highway construction.