Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) says that she and many other members of the Tennessee House of Representatives will introduce an alternative plan that will not increase gas taxes when the
IMPROVE Act “Tax Cut Act of 2017” comes before the House Finance Ways and Means Committee on Monday for consideration.
“When you buy a car in the state of Tennessee, whether used or new, you pay a sales tax on that. We want to take that sales tax and put it to our roads program. That brings in a tremendous amount of money and we think that’s an appropriate, new, dedicated source of funding for our roads, which then we would not have to raise the gas tax,” Harwell said in an interview with Ralph Bristol, host of 99.7 FM WWTN’s Nashville’s Morning News on Monday.
Full details of the plan are being finalized, with input from other House members, Speaker Harwell said. But the plan will use existing revenues from the sales tax of new and used vehicle sales already collected by the state and dedicate those revenues to funding road projects, she added.
Allocating the state portion of the vehicle sales tax revenues toward roads would result in approximately the same amount of money going to that purpose as Governor Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, Harwell says.
On Wednesday, State Rep. Barry Doss (R-Leoma), chairman of the House Transportation Committee and co-sponsor of the governor’s gas tax increase proposal, presented a lengthy argument to the House Finance Subcommittee explaining why the name of the IMPROVE ACT, which significantly increases gas taxes, should be changed to “The Tax Cut Act of 2017.”
Though Doss’ proposal was met with peals of laughter, the subcommittee ultimately approved the change in the bill’s name, and also forwarded it to the full House Finance Ways and Means Committee for consideration on Monday.
On Monday, State Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) called on Speaker Harwell to send the IMPROVE ACT, as it was then known, back to the House Transportation Subcommittee for a “fair and open debate.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson told The Tennessee Star that Speaker Harwell did not have that authority under the rules of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Last month, State Rep. Doss blatantly broke the rules of the Tennessee House of Representatives to push the governor’s gas tax increase proposal, then known as the IMPROVE Act, through the House Transportation Committee he chairs, as The Star reported in the story titled “Boss Doss Breaks Rules to Ram Through Amended Gas Tax Increase Through House Transportation Committee.”
Here is the full transcript of Speaker Harwell’s interview Monday on WWTN:
Bristol: On the phone with us, even as we speak, Speaker Harwell. Good morning. Welcome.
You have a brand new idea on how to better fund the backlog of highway projects. Tell us as much as you can about that.
Speaker Harwell: It’s actually an alternative plan. It was not just my design. There were many of the House members that were working on it. And it essence it’s a lot of moving parts, not finalized yet. We’ll be ready by next week to present it in the Finance Committee.
Bristol: Can you give us any idea of what it might entail?
Speaker Harwell: Yes, basically when you buy a car in the state of Tennessee, whether used or new, you pay a sales tax on that. We want to take that sales tax and put it to our roads program. That brings in a tremendous amount of money and we think that’s an appropriate, new, dedicated source of funding for our roads, which then we would not have to raise the gas tax.
Ralph Bristol: And, of course, there are arguments against that and some that I might be inclined to agree with. For instance, let me just think of one off of the top of my head here. One little old lady might go buy a $40,000 car, pay a lot of taxes toward the roads and maybe drive that car a couple of thousand miles a year. Another guy might go buy a car about the same amount and just drive the wheels off of that, you know 20, 30,000 miles a year and only pay the same amount for the roads he’s using as the little old lady who’s only driving 2,000 miles a year. How would you answer that?
Speaker Harwell: I would say that is a legitimate criticism of this idea. The bottom line, Ralph, is these will be presented. It will be up to the body. There were members that wanted an alternative to the gas tax increase. This is an alternative. Ultimately, the body will decide.
Ralph Bristol: And that would be the main funding source for the increase? For the increase for the transportation projects? The $280 million, or whatever, as a portion of the gas tax on automobiles. New automobiles only or new and used?
Speaker Harwell: No, new and used.
Ralph Bristol: For instance, if a person is selling a car on Craig’s list, would he pay that sales tax?
Speaker Harwell: Yes.
Ralph Bristol: Okay, so any new or used car, okay. And this will be presented to the Finance Committee, correct?
Speaker Harwell: Correct.
Ralph Bristol: And, is there expected to be any kind of a price tag on it that would make it more difficult or anything like that?
Speaker Harwell: No.
Ralph Bristol: Okay, so it’s the same, it produces the same amount of revenue as Governor Haslam’s plan?
Speaker Harwell: Approximately the same amount of revenue, yes.
Ralph Bristol: Very good. Speaker Harwell, thank you.
Speaker Harwell: Thank you.
Ralph Bristol: I appreciate you spending some time with us.