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House Republican Conservatives Put Up a Valiant Fight Against Gov. Haslam’s Gas Tax Increase, Setting Stage for 2018 Election

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When the Tennessee House of Representatives passed Governor Haslam’s gas tax increase bill by a 60 to 37 margin on Wednesday, a bare majority of Republicans–37 for and 35 against—voted yes in favor of the unpopular tax increase.

The 35 conservative Republicans who stood for the foundational principle of limited government were not sufficient to withstand the huge financial and political pressures mounted by the special interests who wanted the bill to pass. Those forces arrayed against the conservative opposition were significant, beginning with Governor Haslam’s taxpayer funded statewide tour that promoted a 962 road project list in all 95 counties, the support of lobbying groups numbering in the thirties, tax reductions for a select group of businesses, and a reported $250 million taxpayer funded deal for the Democrats.

These conservatives lost the battle in 2017, but the war for the Tennessee General Assembly election in 2018 has just begun. The arguments made by these 35 stalwarts on the floor of the House on Wednesday will resonate throughout the state over the next year and a half.

The process through the House subcommittees and committees was not without controversy including the make up of the Transportation Committee, procedural issues, breaking House rules and potential conflicts of interest.

State Rep. David Hawk proposed an alternative plan that failed 58 to 38.

Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) in February presented a road funding proposal that would take one-quarter of one percent of the state sales tax from the General Fund and reallocate it to the Highway Fund.  Meeting with resistance due to the lack of a connection to a “user fee,” Rep. Hawk re-worked the proposal to utilize existing revenues the state receives from the sales tax on new and used cars.

Throughout the subcommittee and committee process leading up to the House floor vote on Wednesday, there were several outspoken critics of the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” for supplementing the Highway Fund through gas and diesel tax increases while decreasing the General Fund through tax decreases.  The point made was that if the tax cuts from the General Fund were truly revenue neutral to the tax increases in the Highway Fund, the result would be the same as a simple transfer of the funds.

State Rep. Andy Holt noted that in the gallery he didn’t see the mom and pop lobbyist or the single mom lobbyist or the struggling middle class family lobbyist, because they are all at work. Rep. Holt asked Rep. Doss if he would break apart the increases and decreases, because “we’re literally holding tax reforms hostage in an effort to fund roads with this new tax.”

The comment most often repeated by the representatives opposing the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” was that their “people,” “constituents,” “citizens,” or “voters” back home were against the gas tax increase.

Due to their participation on committees that heard the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017”, some House members had a greater opportunity to speak out against the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” itself or the committee process prior to the vote on the House floor.  Others added their voice during the floor session through comments or amendments to the bill (HB 534).

State Rep. Timothy Rudd said, about an amendment he ended up withdrawing regarding TDOT, that “no department of state government should be outside our direction,” and that “they’re arrogant and they don’t respond to us half of the time.”
State Rep. Micah Van Huss’s message to the citizens of Tennessee, “You have elected a Republican super majority, but we cannot pass a heartbeat bill that would save unborn babies; we cannot get constitutional carry passed which would not infringe on our 2nd amendment rights, but our Republican super majority can vote to increase your taxes.”
State Rep. Brian Terry pointed out that the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” ‘s $370 million increase is mostly at the pocket book level, while only $110 to $125 million in tax cuts are the pocket book level

One of the most succinct and hard-hitting comments during the floor debate Wednesday came from Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) when he said that Republicans can’t pass a bill to protect the unborn, or constitutional carry, but they can pass a tax increase.  Van Huss was quickly shut down by Speaker Harwell for not speaking to the amendment.

State Rep. Judd Matheny recommended adoption of the Hawk Plan because it was the “cleanest” and limits the growth of government.
State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver said she opposed the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017”  by the principle and the process, “never seeing so much wheelin’ and dealin’.” “We have denied and ignored transportation needs down here since I’ve been here and now we want to go and pass legislation for our irresponsibility and put it on the back of the working taxpayers of this state.”
State Rep. Courtney Rogers referred to the Founding of the United States of America and the words, “taxation without representation,” and that the people are to be represented “at the lowest common denominator, the individual, not as the groups that combine themselves in order to compete for power, not those groups that are seeking to tax all in order to benefit just a few and themselves.”
State Rep. Sheila Butt cautioned that the gas tax is a “dinosaur tax” and that the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” “may be a temporary fix and we may well be back here in 4 years raising the gas tax or be finding another dedicated funding stream.”
State Rep. David Byrd read comments to a pro-gas tax ad on Facebook and said 99 out of the first 100 were against the tax increase and called them out as “liars, traitors, RINOs, and those were some of the nice comments.”
State Rep. Bud Hulsey is the owner of a trucking company and said “every trucking company has a fuel surcharge built into their fee” and that “every citizen will pay the difference for everything they buy.”
State Rep. Jason Zachary  said as a member of the Transportation Committee, TDOT had reported to them that their backlog in 2015 was $6 billion, but has grown to $10 billion and, as The Tennessee Star reported, TDOTs budget has been reduced by 13% from 2011 to 2017. Zachary said “we do not have a revenue crisis, we have a priority issue in how we’re allocating our dollars.”
State Rep. Ryan Williams (left) and State Rep David Byrd (right)both voted no on gas tax increases. Williams has referred to the inclusion of the Hall Income Tax as an IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” tax cut as “re-gifting,” a term that obviously irritated Rep. Doss.

 

The 35 Republicans voting against the IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” were Representatives Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), Kent Calfee (R-Kingston), John Crawford, (R-Kingsport), Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), Ron Gant (R-Rossville), Tilman Goins (R-Morrisville), David Hawk (R-Greeneville), Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Andy Holt (R-Dresden), Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport), Roger Kane (R-Knoxville), Sabi Kumar (R-Springfield), William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett), Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City), Debra Moody (R-Covington), Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro), Jay Reedy (R-Erin), Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta), Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna), Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), Terry Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster), Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), and Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville).

State Rep. Jerry Sexton  said he was there to speak for the people and that they’re going to benefit just $2.18 from the food tax versus the gas tax, but there are 24 companies that are going to benefit just over $1 million from the F&E tax cut. Sexton was in favor of the Hawk Plan because it used taxes that have already been paid in Tennessee.
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Copyright 2017 The Tennessee Star

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