State Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), one of the 11 members of the House Transportation Committee who voted yes on increasing the gas tax and moved the amended version of Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, tells the Spring Hill Home Page he is proud of his vote in committee on Tuesday.
The amended version of the IMPROVE Act for which Whitson voted is said to be the same as the amended Senate version, which reduced the gas tax increase from 7 cents per gallon to 6 cents per gallon. The full details of the amended House version Whitson voted for have not yet been released to the public.
“We made sure that a we stayed a debt free and pay-as-you-go state when it comes to our public roads,” the Williamson County resident and Army veteran told the Spring Hill Home Page on Wednesday.
Whitson was not asked to comment on Chairman Barry Doss’ (R-Leaoma) violation of Tennessee House of Representatives Rule 34 in the committee, a rule breaking abuse of power that enabled the vote to be held on Tuesday in committee.
Whitson’s colleague, State Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), invoked Rule 34 during the hearing. Rule 34 grants members of the Tennessee House of Representatives the privilege of “separating the question” when an amendment is added to a bill under consideration.
Hill wanted to vote separately an the tax credit amendment and then on the gas tax increase.
By invoking Rule 34, Hill was simply asserting his privilege as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives to have two separate votes.
Chairman Doss, however, knowingly violated Rule 34, and did not grant that privilege to Hill.
As a consequence, the tax credit and gas tax increase were lumped together in the single vote, which went 11 to 7 in favor, an outcome that would have possibly been delayed to a subsequent hearing had the votes been taken separately.
“We don’t want to be like Washington, D.C. The highway trust fund is broken. Their only solution is to take money from the general fund to try to keep it solvent,” Whitson claimed in his interview.
The Home Page did not ask Whitson why the $189 million currently collected annually in highway user fees that is diverted from the Highway Fund to the general fund, debt service, and education cannot be allocated to the Highway Fund, its intended destination, a solution identified by The Tennessee Star in its reporting.
“Our state debt level per capita is around $340 per person. We don’t borrow money, and we need it to stay that way,” Whitson added.
“Ultimately, the decision was we want to make sure those driving from out of state pay their fair share,” Whitson told the Home Page.
“Those other plans would have made Tennesseans pay for it. If you start taking money from the general fund, it would be easy to take away money from TDOT. It happened during the Gov. [Phil] Bredesen administration, and those other plans could have allowed it to happen again,” Whitson concluded.
The House version of the IMPROVE Act now moves to the Local Government Committee for consideration, and if it passes there, its next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.
The amended Senate version of the bill passed the Transportation Committee in a 7 to 1 vote last week.