State Rep. Barry Doss (R-Leoma), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee and a leading proponent of Gov. Haslam’s proposal to increase the gas tax by 7 cents per gallon, told 99.7 FM WWTN’s Ralph Bristol on the Thursday edition of Nashville’s Morning News that he wanted to remind WWTN listeners how much the Tennessee General Assembly has cut taxes recently.
“What is this important argument that nobody has heard yet?” Bristol asked Doss.
“One thing that we’re not concentrating on,” Doss began, “no one’s talking about the tax cuts that we’re doing.”
“I would like to remind all of your listeners that five years ago we lowered the inheritance and gift tax which was a $110 million tax cut, and we knew five years ago there was a drastic need for new revenue for infrastructure, yet we chose to lower taxes $110 million instead of shifting that money over to revenue,” Doss said.
Doss was one of the key figures in the legislative drama at the Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday in which proponents of Gov. Haslam’s plan forced it through the Transportation Subcommittee, which was tied 4 to 4, by making the unusual move of bringing in House Speaker Pro Tem State Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) to break the tie.
Doss was eager to point out all the additional taxes the Tennessee General Assembly has cut recently.
Two years later we lowered the food tax by a quarter point which was a $25 million decrease.
The next year another quarter point, which was a $27 million tax cut.
Last year we voted to completely get rid of the Hall Income tax knowing full well that a gas tax was on the horizon.
The House Transportation Committee Chairman suggested that those cuts were made despite the fact that most legislators, he said, knew there were significant infrastructure spending needs.
“The argument was made we don’t fund roads with taxes, we fund it with the user fee, the gas tax,” Doss said, explaining why, in his view, the gas tax was not taken up in previous years.
Doss returned to the theme of all the taxes the Tennessee General Assembly has cut recently.
“We have cut taxes $380 million, and all the while we have had the opportunity to shift that money instead of lowering the taxes, we could have shifted that money over to infrastructure but we chose not to,” Doss told Bristol.
“Because of our tax cuts, and we’re very proud we’re already cut taxes to $380 million, and we’re proposing an additional $250 million in tax cuts this year to get us up to about $600 million in tax cuts,” Doss continued.
“You agree, do you not, you needed to start from zero?” Bristol asked.
“Do you agree this tax swap the governor is asking for, that you have to lower taxes at least as much an possibly now more than increase the taxes ?” Bristol pressed.
“Yes, but I will tell you Ralph, last year we voted to cut the Hall Income Tax one percent, yet last year we only took $37 million out of the budget this year.”
Bristol then pressed Doss on the issue of not counting the Hall Income Tax cuts in revenue neutral calculations, and Doss agreed those cuts should not be included.
The Leoma Republican returned to the theme of all the taxes the Tennessee General Assembly has cut recently.
“We intend to cut taxes every year that we have a surplus,” Doss told Bristol.
Bristol asked Doss about Gov. Haslam’s proposal to index gas tax increases to the rate of inflation in future years.
“It was pretty overwhelming that indexing is not a popular idea up here,” Doss told Bristol.
“Indexing is not something the state legislature wanted to do… so that issue is gone,” he added.
Doss reiterated the need for extra money to fund road construction and infrastructure.
“The debate is not whether we need the funds in infrastructure, we all know we need that,” Doss asserted.
Doss appeared confident the governor’s tax increase proposal would eventually become law, but he told Bristol there were many steps left in the process before that will be finalized.
“The only thing we accomplished yesterday [in the Transportation Subcommittee] is getting rid of indexing,” he noted.
“There’s a lot more support for the governor’s plan in the full Transportation Committee,” Doss told Bristol, but added that after the Transportation Committee the bill will go through the Finance Committee, the Local Committee, before it reaches a vote on the floor of the House.
And then, a conference will be held with the State Senate, should a bill pass in that chamber in a form that is not exactly the same as the one that may pass in the House.
During the interview with Bristol, Doss did not address these three questions posed to him earlier by The Star. Doss has yet to respond to these questions in any forum:
- Can you confirm that 25% of Highway Fund user fees go to the general fund?
- Can you confirm that suppliers and retailers of both gas and diesel can hold the tax money anywhere from 20-51 days depending on the month before remitting to state per dept. of revenue fuel tax schedule?
- Was there any particular reason these important and highly relevant issues were not raised prior to the subcommittee vote [Wednesday]?
Bristol did not ask Doss any of these questions during Thursday’s interview.