Governor Bill Haslam was the featured guest at the July 20 “A Midsummer’s Night Gala” fund raising event “for the Re-election of Anthony Holt, County Executive,” a fervent supporter of the governor’s gas-tax increasing IMPROVE Act and host of a Sumner County town hall on the topic February 22.
Holt was an early promoter of what would eventually become the controversial IMPROVE Act, when he brought to the county Legislative Committee “A Resolution of Support for Enhanced, Sustainable Funding for Transportation Needs for the State of Tennessee and for Local Communities” back in April 2016.
Holt reported to the Legislative Committee that the resolution had been developed by the MPO – Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – of which Holt is a member. According to its website, the MPO was established through federal legislation and “facilitates strategic planning for the region’s multi-modal transportation system.”
At the time, the state had more than a half-billion dollar budget surplus, yet the transportation resolution urged the Tennessee General Assembly to provide funding other than the over-collected taxes that would account for inflation and allow cities and counties the option to tax for transportation needs, including transit options.
The IMPROVE Act increased the gas, diesel and propane taxes, raised motor vehicle registration fees by $5 for passenger vehicles and higher for commercial vehicles and $100 for electric cars. It also allowed for city and county governments to increase six different taxes to fund mass transit — the sales tax, business tax, motor vehicle tax, local rental car tax, tourist accommodation/hotel occupancy tax and the residential development tax.
Notably, none of the taxes approved for increases to fund mass transit meet the “user fee” standard required by Governor Haslam and other gas tax proponents when it came to funding roads.
In the 2018 Republican primary, Holt will face declared challenger and property tax increase opponent, County Commissioner Jim Vaughn (District 6). Voters, still disenchanted over the 2014 property tax increase of over 20 percent, will have at least one option to Holt, who took full responsibility for the tax increase when he told the Sumner County Republican Women, “I want you to know today, you can hold me responsible – hold me personally responsible. I do not want to shirk my responsibility.”
Holt is also responsible for the $20 million industrial park proposal which contributed to the 2014 property tax increase, although it went nowhere at that time. In 2016, Holt and Jimmy Johnston of Forward Sumner, the county’s economic development service provider, revisited the controversial topic which includes the purchase of approximately 1,000 acres of bucolic agriculturally-zoned land north of Gallatin city limits.
The proposal activated a group of concerned citizens, Preserve Sumner County, in opposition to the project, which by then had been named Sumner Enterprise Park. The project, once again, did not advance following several months of review by a specially-formed ad hoc committee of the County Commission, headed by Commissioner Kevin Pomeroy (District 6), who was a named sponsor of Holt’s gala event.
At least two of about one hundred platinum, gold, silver and bronze sponsors of Holt’s gala event outright own or are linked to approximately one quarter of the proposed 1,000-acre industrial park land, which will likely aggravate concerns of the Sumner Enterprise Park opposition. Among others, sponsors also included political figures, local developers and Holt appointees to various county boards.
Other attendees not listed on the invitation included anticipated gubernatorial candidate U.S. Congresswoman Diane Black (TN-06) and Secretary of State Tre Hargett.