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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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