Concerned Veterans of America (CVA) blasted Tennessee’s Republican political establishment on Monday for using veterans in a “Tennessee [gas] tax hike ploy.”
“The politicians pushing for this gas tax increase know that it’s unpopular, so they’ve resorted to using veterans as pawns to push their big government agenda. Pretending that this massive tax hike is good for the military community is an unconscionable move that disrespects those who fought and sacrificed for this country,” Mark Lucas, executive director of CVA said in a statement.
“The truth is that this gas tax will hurt families and veterans alike who rely on affordable transportation in the state. Veterans deserve property tax relief, but not as part of a glaringly obvious ploy to increase taxes across the board. We urge the Tennessee legislature to look for ways to cut wasteful government spending instead of approving this disingenuous and costly tax hike,” Lucas said.
The amended version of Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act gas tax increase that passed the Senate Transporation Committee last week “includes a small tax relief for veterans which would exempt them from paying property taxes under certain circumstances, but would not protect them from the impact of the massive gas tax hike,” the CVA statement said.
CVA is a non-partisan organization that advocates for policies that will preserve the freedom and prosperity of veterans and their families that they “so proudly fought and sacrificed to defend.”
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee passed the amended Senate version of the IMPROVE Act on an 11 to 7 vote, a result facilitated by Chairman Barry Doss (R-Leoma) breaking House rules to ram through the bill.
On Wednesday, Tennessee Legislative Veterans Caucus unanimously supported a resolution presented by State Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), himself a six-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps with three deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, that condemned the the use of veterans as political pawns in exchange for votes in favor of the IMPROVE Act.
The resolution reads as follows:
Whereas an attempt has been made to influence votes for the IMPROVE Act by amending the veterans property tax relief on to it;
Whereas Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Executive Director Mark Lucas condemned this action, issuing the following statement:
‘The politicians pushing for this gas tax increase know that it’s unpopular, so they’ve resorted to using veterans as pawns to push their big government agenda. Pretending that this massive tax hike is good for the military community is an unconscionable move that disrespects those who fought and sacrificed for this country.
The truth is that this gas tax will hurt families and veterans alike who rely on affordable transportation in the state. Veterans deserve property tax relief, but not as part of a glaringly obvious ploy to increase taxes across the board. We urge the Tennessee legislature to look for ways to cut wasteful government spending instead of approving this disingenuous and costly tax hike.”
We, the members of the Tennessee Legislative Veterans Caucus, strongly condemn the fact that veterans are being used in a political way to garner votes for a completely unrelated issue.
The following bills give property tax relief to veterans: HB0005 by Ragan, HB0023 by T. Hill and HB 0020 by Pitts.
We request that all of these bills get a fair vote and that the veterans property tax relief be taken off the IMPROVE Act.
Caucus members voted unanimously to put the document on letterhead for distribution to Governor Haslam and the General Assembly, which Sen. Jon Lundberg volunteered to carry out.
On Tuesday, Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), a member of the Tennessee Legislative Veterans Caucus, vigoruously defended Tennessee’s veterans in statements she made prior to her no vote on the amended IMPROVE Act when it passed in the House Transportation Committee.
““I would like to speak to a part of this bill that I think I am uniquely able to speak to. Going to start with a little bit of a different discussion, but it is applicable to the bill,” Rogers told the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
Rogers is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
“Those of you who remember during Desert Storm the enemy used hostages, put them in front of their triple A and put them inside their mosques . . . so that we would avoid attacking those directly. This is how I view what I have decided to call ‘Operation Veteran Shield’ in this bill,” Rogers told the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
“A few years ago we took away benefits from our most disabled veterans. And if you don’t understand what that means, we’re not talking about someone missing a little digit or something like that. You’re talking about someone missing two arms, two legs, one of each, full use or loss of sight in both eyes and there’s a few other things added to that mix. Also, the poorest of the poor are tied into that, our elderly, disabled and the poorest of the poor,” she said.
“We have tried in times of plenty with a budget surplus to reinstate those benefits,” Rogers told the committee.
“We were denied every time. We were denied every time until we had this opportunity for a specific political objective to increase taxes on all Tennesseans. ‘Vote for a tax against all of your Tennesseans and we will support your veterans,’ [gas tax increase supporters say],” she continued.
“And what I want to say to that is that the inverse is also true. That’s being held against us in this particular item on this bill. That if we refuse to vote to support our veterans on this and the poorest of the poor, the elderly and disabled as well, then they will continue to disregard our veterans,” she concluded her statement to the committee prior to the vote.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Rogers spoke emphatically about her views on the importance of treating veterans fairly, and not using them as part of political ploys.
A dozen members of the Tennessee Veterans Legislative Caucus attended the meeting, as did a number of veterans and representatives of veterans groups.
The members of the Tennessee Veterans Legislative Caucus in attendance were Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester), Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis), Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), Rep. Marc Gravitt (R-East Ridge), Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), Rep. Jay Reedy (R-Erin), Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville), Rep. Dwayne Thompson (D-Cordova), and Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston).
One notable veteran who is a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives and a key supporter of Gov. Haslam’s gas tax increase, Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), was not in attendance. Whitson is a retired colonel who served in the U.S. Army.
In the audience were at least six leaders and members of local veterans organizations, including Ron Bottomley, Commander, AMVETS Post 1776, Nashville; Frank Forbes, American Legion Post 5, DAV Chapter 3, VVA 953, AMVETS 1976; Fred Frazier; Edward W. Harris, Jr.; Michael Jackson; Ralph E. Land, Legislative Director, AMVET and VVA, President VVA 953; and Khambang Sibounheuang, VVA 953.
Following the conclusion of the Veterans Caucus meeting, the leaders and members of the local veterans groups all expressed their agreement and support for the resolution by Rep. Van Huss and Rep. Rogers’ statements, as they enthusiastically lined up to have their picture taken with Rep. Rogers.