As Governor Bill Haslam continues to tout the need for a massive tax increase in order to fund road and bridge construction and maintenance in Tennessee it is increasingly clear that the well-funded and heavily lobbied campaign for higher taxes actually has nothing to do with roads. It is actually about spending billions in surplus and increased recurring revenue on everything EXCEPT roads!
A good magician is a master of misdirection. While you are captivated by what they are doing with their right hand the real trick is happening in the left hand. Governor Haslam is using the same sort of misdirect move to hide the truth about his tax increase scheme.
While Tennessee currently has a surplus of a billion dollars AND an extra billion dollars in recurring revenue the Governor is fighting against any an all efforts to spend ANY of that money on roads. He prefers to impose higher taxes on Tennessee drivers with a seven cent increase in the gasoline tax and a twelve cent increase in the diesel tax (plus additional fees and taxes) that will generate about $300 million a year more for state and local road projects.
State Representative David Hawk has proposed an alternate plan that would NOT include any higher taxes but would instead shift a quarter percent of the current sales tax to road funding rather than being left in the state’s general fund. The Hawk Plan would also generate about $300 million per year more for state and local road projects. So, either plan generates about the same in additional road funding but one plan raises taxes and the other doesn’t. If the need for more road money is the actual priority, then why would anybody oppose the Hawk Plan? Why would anybody support a huge tax increase to pay for roads when it can be accomplished WITHOUT a tax increase, particularly when the state has TWO BILLION DOLLARS in surplus and recurring revenue to allocate with our current tax rates?
The answer is simple and smoke and mirrors cannot hide the truth: it is not about the roads! The Governor and his cronies see that two billion dollars in extra money as THEIR money to spend on THEIR pet projects and personal priorities. Despite the fact that state spending has grown by about six billion dollars under Governor Haslam he still wants to spend even more to grow and expand government.
Using some of that money on roads isn’t really what he wants to do. So, raising taxes “FOR the roads,” and claiming a crisis in order to justify it, frees up all that other money to spend on what he WANTS rather than what we NEED. Like most big government bureaucrats, he thinks he can spend our money better than we can so he wants us to pony up more of our money even when we have already overpaid to the tune of two billion dollars!
Tennessee can and should improve our roads. The Hawk Plan makes that possible WITHOUT raising taxes — and still leaves about $700 million a year in new funding available for other projects and needs. Don’t be deceived by the Haslam magic act. The ONLY reason to support the Haslam Plan is if you just want higher taxes, because it is NOT about the roads!
Steve Gill is a conservative media and political consultant who helped lead the successful fight against a Tennessee income tax 15 years ago. He is a co-founder of The Tennessee Star.