MOUNT JULIET, Tennessee — At his first public speaking engagement since announcing, in an exclusive interview with The Tennessee Star, his candidacy for the State Senate seat Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) will be leaving to run for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, Rep. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) called the IMPROVE Act “Washington politics” for the way numerous issues were combined in one bill without an “up or down” vote on each individually.
At the Americans For Prosperity Town Hall held in Mt. Juliet on Monday evening with Field Director Shawn Hatmaker and attended by more than 30 people to honor and appreciate Rep. Pody and Sen. Beavers for their vote against the gas tax increasing IMPROVE Act, Rep. Pody’s comments on the recently concluded legislative session focused largely on the IMPROVE Act.
Using four different colored packs of sweeteners and sugar, Rep. Pody gave a visual demonstration of the IMPROVE Act when he ripped the packets open and poured them out together, alluding to the separate and unrelated issues in the bill (HB534), saying “They all came out white,” and they then had to “Vote on that, whether there was some good or some bad. That’s what DC does.”
“As a group, almost 100 percent of the legislators wanted to get money to the roads,” said Pody. How they did it “was the only battle.”
Pody credited Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma), who also attended the Town Hall, for engineering a stoppage of the budget process that resulted in a successful negotiation for a $55 million allocation to go directly to local governments from the state General Fund for road projects. As Pody pointed out, the allocation from the General Fund was a complete contradiction to the “user fee” argument the proponents had made in support of the gas tax.
Regarding cuts to the franchise and excise tax and the veterans’ property tax relief, Pody indicated “We were already voting to do that.”
According to Pody, the way the IMPROVE Act was structured will cause “almost 100 cities and counties to lose money,” which is, in essence, considered an unfunded mandate.
Article II Section 24 of the state constitution reads, “No law of general application shall impose increased expenditure requirements on cities or counties unless the General Assembly shall provide that the state share in the cost.”
The fiscal memo for the IMPROVE Act under HB 534 specifically states, “Local governments are NOT (emphasis added) held harmless from the loss of state-shared sales tax revenue under this bill,” referring to the one percent decrease in sales tax on food and food ingredients.
The fiscal memo later reports that “The recurring decrease in local revenue pursuant to the state-shared allocation (of the decrease in sales tax on food and food ingredients) is estimated to be $5,761,240.” That decrease represents a 22.2 percent reduction in the allocations to local governments, from $25,925,017 down to $20,163,777.
The state, on the other hand, while incurring a higher estimated reduction of $119 million, will actually realize a lower percentage decrease from the food tax decrease at 20 percent.
Frustration was a consistent theme throughout Rep. Pody’s discussion of the IMPROVE Act and the way it was passed.
Rep. Pody provided some highlights about Tennessee’s enviable financial situation having the lowest per capita debt at less than $300, compared to the national debt of $64,000 per capita. Tennessee’s pension fund “is one of the best in the entire nation.”
“And some of the things that Senator Beavers and Judd (Matheny) have done, it’s not glitzy, it’s not flashy, but it’s the right thing to do” said Pody, continuing,
And that’s the good financial management that we have had. We just want to extend that so we don’t make dumb mistakes like we just did. We could have done this without a gas tax. We could have just taken the money you’ve already given us, over a billion dollars you’ve already given us, and take a portion and put it in the roads.
Pody concluded, “We weren’t trying to stop the money going to roads. We just wanted to do it right, and that’s what was so frustrating.”