The studio audience at WWTN’s Gas Tax Town Hall on Thursday was virtually unanimous in its opposition to Gov. Haslam’s proposed increase in the state tax on gasoline from the current level of 21 cents per gallon to the proposed level of 28 cents per gallon.
About twenty people filled the seats in the small WWTN performance room to listen to moderator Ralph Bristol, show host Dan Mandis, and eight panelists from the General Assembly, Gov. Haslam’s office, and two public interest groups discuss the merits of the proposed gas tax increase.
In the first hour of the program, several audience members opposed to the proposed gas tax increase asked questions of the panel.
During a break, moderator Ralph Bristol asked if anyone in the audience favored the proposed gas tax increase and wanted to ask a question.
No one raised their hand.
Bristol then asked if anyone in the audience was undecided.
Jessica Colon, recently retired from the Army, now working as a nurse in Middle Tennessee and living in Robertson County, raised her hand.
In the second hour, Bristol called on Colon, who asked a question of the panel.
After the program ended, The Tennessee Star asked Colon if she had been persuaded in favor of or against the proposed gas tax, based on the Town Hall.
“I came in undecided today,” Colon told The Star.
“And at this point, I’m still undecided but I’m actually leaning more towards being against it,” Colon said.
“I feel like we could really reallocate the funds instead of increasing the gas tax,” Colon, who recently moved to Tennessee after serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, said.
“Me, living in a rural area, I have to drive a long way to get to Nashville, it takes me a long time,” she added.
“I’m a nurse and the closest hospital is actually about 25 minutes away from me, so I feel like it penalizes those of us that have to travel the extra mile,” she concluded.
Caleb, the owner of a small trucking company who lives in Smyrna, told the panel that it simply made no common sense to increase the diesel tax by 12 cents per gallon, a huge increase that will cost him more money in operating expenses, when the state has an annual surplus of over $900 million this year.
The franchise and excise (“F and E”) tax breaks granted to certain companies as part of Gov. Haslam’s proposal will not help him at all, he said, because he operates his business as a proprietorship, and those breaks are being offered only to corporations and LLCs (limited liability companies).
The small business owners, he said, are the ones who will get hurt in Gov. Haslam’s gas tax increase proposal.
“I’m from Smyrna, Tennessee,” Caleb told the panelists when moderator Bristol called upon him to ask a question:
It still sounds crazy that we have to take this money and we’re wanting to do it. It don’t make no common sense. Just common sense, ok? One end to the other.
I am an owner operator. I have three trucks. This stuff like this, when you’re raising the fuel tax, that effects the small guy. It doesn’t effect the big guy. They’re getting their fuel from Haslam’s oil company a lot cheaper than what we’re buying out here out in the real world. It effects the small guy.
“There’s a company in Smyrna, Tennessee, a small trucking company, closed its doors,” he added.
“The failure rate for small trucking companies around the country has gone down,” Caleb said, but that trend could be reversed in Tennessee if Gov. Haslam’s proposed increase in gas and diesel taxes is approved.
“This is a sales pitch that I think is misinformation,” Anthony Horsemen said of the presentations made by supporters of the gas tax increase proposal on the panel:
The state of Tennessee, the total state and local tax collected was $18.24 billion, and the percentage of total tax paid by residents was 63.2 percent, the thirteenth lowest [state in the country], not the lowest [in the country.
I’m a farmer and I own a real estate company in rural Tennessee. I moved to Tennessee because of certain things, of which the cost of living.
I drive a diesel truck. The truck is 3 years old and I’ve got 90,000 miles on it. I’m already being penalized as a diesel truck and a farmer.
“This is a tax which is going to penalize rural America. Most of the people that I’ve spoken to, and I’m very active in my community. . . are saying we’re not going to back anybody that backs this tax,” Horseman concluded.