The House Transportation Committee failed to advance Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act (HB 0534) on Tuesday, despite multiple tactics employed by Chairman State Rep. Barry Doss (R-Leoma), a vigorous proponent of the governor’s gas tax increase proposal, to accomplish that outcome.
The committee voted instead to roll the vote over for another session in one week.
Voting in favor of a one-week delay were Representatives David Alexander (R-Winchester), Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville), Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton), Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville).
Voting against the delay were Chairman Doss, and Representatives Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis), Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville), Ron Travis (R-Dayton), Sam Whitson (R-Franklin), John Mark Windle (D-Livingston).
Chairman Doss initially declared that the motion to delay the vote for one week had failed, even though the roll call vote was 9 to 8 in favor the delay.
When several members vocally objected, Chairman Doss declared the motion passed and the meeting was quickly adjourned.
The day began in subterfuge, when Chairman Doss held a bill review session one hour prior to the scheduled full committee meeting. That bill review session was attended by only 6 of the 18 members of the full committee. Fifteen observers were also present.
Before most committee members joined the meeting, committee member Rep. Dale Carr hand delivered a proposed amendment for the IMPROVE Act that was not introduced or discussed, but requested simply that it “be spread over the members’ desks.”
In reviewing the numerous amendments to the bill, Chairman Doss omitted the most recent amendment from the discussion until he was questioned by Americans For Prosperity Tennessee Field Director, Shawn Hatmaker, as to whether any amendments had been filed other than those in the packet.
Doss initially said he didn’t bring the additional amendments with him, as they were untimely filed. Hatmaker pressed further to get the details of the newest amendment, which allocates a portion of the sales tax on new vehicles to the Highway Fund as well as cities and counties.
Doss went on to say that it would take a two-thirds vote to have the amendment heard by the committee.
The Transportation Committee meeting room was filled to capacity of about 75 people with overflow of another 50 in the adjacent room watching on television monitors. Many of the attendees were employees of the state’s executive branch, including the Department of Transportation, some of whom sat in roped-off front row seats, and professional engineers who were present for their “day on the hill.”
Once co-sponsor Rep. Dunn introduced the bill, and Rep. Alexander introduced his amendment to use one quarter percent of sales tax revenue in place of the fuel tax increases for additional highway funding, Rep. Weaver made a motion to adjourn, which failed by a vote of 8 to 8 and one pass.
Impassioned arguments and subsequent, but separate, motions for a delay were made by Representatives Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) and Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station).
Sanderson said that the version before them is the first draft of the bill that everyone knew would not pass through in its current form and asked to “roll the bill” for two weeks. He went on to ask why the House and Senate could not develop one piece of legislation that would be endorsed by leadership without “backroom deals” and “mock Senate Transportation Subcommittees.” Sanderson later withdrew his motion to roll the bill.
Sexton, agreeing with Sanderson, said they received amendments that morning “80 something and 90 something pages, and then we got 5 more, 6 more or 7 more with umpteen different options of this amendment, that amendment.”
“How are we supposed to make a sensible decision on a bill as important as this?” Sexton asked.
“I want to know whether we’re going to vote on raising taxes or not. That’s all I want to know,” he stated, adding:
And, why do we want to smoke screen everything to make it look like we’re doing one thing when we’re doing something else. We passed this out of subcommittee, knowing good and well, I didn’t vote for it, it was going to change when it got to this committee. Now it’s going to change when it gets to the floor. Why don’t we be straight up with Tennesseans and decide what it’s going to be and vote on it and quit trying to hide from amendments and everything else. We got two bills. We got a bill to raise taxes and we got a bill that uses taxes we’ve already raised.
Why don’t we be straight up? Let’s just be straight up.
It’s important that decide that we roll this so we can decide what kind of bill we’re going to vote on and everybody knows.
Rep. Bo Mitchell said he agreed with a lot of what Rep. Sanderson said and added that there is a need for bipartisan leadership, that he had yet to see a partisan pothole or partisan bridge falling down and that it will take a lot of people from the other side to get this across the finish line.
Mitchell continued that he was not prepared to give a quarter million dollars away to what many perceive as the wealthy, while giving a penny on a gallon of milk to the average Tennessean.
Before proceeding to the vote on the one-week delay, Chairman Doss made a closing argument stating he was proud of the committee and the legislature and that the discussion all along has been how do we fund roads.
Doss said he applauds that Governor Haslam announced his IMPROVE Act on January 18 and has since traveled to the districts of half of the committee members. Doss added that there have been numerous articles, debates around the hill and Rep. Dunn was there to explain the bill in depth. He continued that the bill is 80 pages long, of which 22 pages are the projects and that without the list of projects, there would have been complaints about the bill for not having the projects. Without the projects, it’s a very simple bill. Doss said he applauds the governor for putting the 962 projects in the bill.
Doss concluded by saying, “All of us should have had ample time to read and understand the bill. Guys, we have 10 minutes left. There is no other room available. And I would strongly urge us to do our job and vote on this.”
After the motion to delay passed and the meeting was adjourned, the committee’s next meeting time was set for one week from Tuesday.