Gubernatorial candidate and Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) was a featured speaker at an event in support of Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) who voted for the gas tax increasing IMPROVE Act and said he will be facing a challenger in the 2018 Republican primary.
Also speaking at the event, which Sanderson said was arranged by Farmers Insurance agent Tom Eison and lobbyist for Farmers Group Inc. PAC Harvey Fischer, was State Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), who praised Sanderson’s work in the legislature. Jackson and Harwell both also voted in favor of the IMPROVE Act.
The State Gazette reported that approximately 75 people were in attendance at the event, to which all three speakers seemed to defend the vote in favor of the gas tax increase, focusing instead on the other aspects of the IMPROVE Act which Sanderson referred to as “the largest tax cut in the state of Tennessee’s history.”
Harwell, said one of the most important things she does as Speaker is “determine who will chair my committees,” in introducing Sanderson, who chairs her State Government Committee. One of the three challenges Harwell says she gave to Sanderson and “all of his colleagues,” is to ask themselves before voting on any piece of legislation, “Does it increase the size of government or not?”
Harwell uses this point as part of her gubernatorial campaign platform to demonstrate her leadership in the House. Neither Harwell nor Sanderson addressed the fact that in spite of the “largest tax cut in the state of Tennessee’s history,” that the state portion of the budget has grown from $13.4 to $17.9 Billion in the seven-year period from 2011-12 to 2017-18, a 34 percent increase.
Sanderson voted to approve the IMPROVE Act as HB 534 twice, on the House Floor April 19 and as a member of the House Transportation Committee March 21.
Additionally, the 1978 Article II, Section 24 amendment to the Tennessee Constitution known as the Copeland Cap named for its sponsor Representative David Copeland, states “In no year shall the rate of growth of appropriations from state tax revenues exceed the estimated rate of growth of the state’s economy as determined by law.” In other words, state spending increases should not exceed the rate of growth in the income of Tennesseans.
As HB 514, Sanderson voted to break the Copeland Cap, authorizing state spending to exceed the growth in the state’s economy by $438 million, or 2.85 percent.