Democratic Party candidates in California are starting to distance themselves from a 12 cent a gallon gas tax increase imposed on drivers in their state and which is subject to a repeal effort this Fall. At least 4 Democrat candidates are turning against their own party on the issue of increased gas taxes.
But in Tennessee, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean is not only embracing last year’s IMPROVE Act fuel tax increase that raised gas and diesel taxes over $300 million a year, he wants to allow local governments to raise the fuel taxes even higher. Dean, a former two-term mayor of Nashville, says the state needs to expand on the IMPROVE Act, the 2017 law that increased gas taxes 6 cents a gallon and diesel taxes 10 cents per gallon. The tax increase was passed while Tennessee enjoyed about a $2 billion dollar SURPLUS. The phased in gas tax increase went up another one cent per gallon on July first. The final cent in the six cent increase goes into effect July 1, 2018.
“Unlike my opponent,” Dean said in endorsing local option fuel tax increases, “I believe passing the IMPROVE Act was the right move for Tennessee. But we can’t rest; we can’t sit still. As Governor, I’ll work with legislators to make transportation infrastructure an even better tool to add jobs and increase access to high-quality education and health care.”
Davidson County became the first of the 12 counties authorized by the IMPROVE Act, introduced by Gov. Haslam, and passed by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law in 2017, to use the authority granted in the law to ask voters to increase local gas taxes . In October, Karl Dean’s successor, disgraced former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, proposed a $9 billion transit plan, to be financed by a local gas tax subject to voter approval.
Both Karl Dean and former Nashville Mayor and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen were in the audience that day cheering her on.
Voters in Davidson County, however, had other ideas. On May 1 they rejected the plan to increase local gas taxes to fund the transit boondoggle by a 2-to-1 vote.
Under Dean’s proposal, county officials in all 95 counties would be able to put such local gas tax increase proposals on the ballot for an up or down vote as many times as they want.
Dean’s Republican opponent, Bill Lee, neither embraced nor opposed the IMPROVE Act early in his campaign, saying the fuel tax increases contained in that bill were “water under the bridge.”
A spokesperson for the Lee campaign criticized Dean’s call for expanding the IMPROVE Act’s provision allowing 12 local county governments to increase local gas taxes to all 95 counties in the state when contacted late Tuesday by The Tennessee Star.
“Bill Lee has said throughout the campaign that he is against raising taxes,” the spokesperson said.
“Over the course of the campaign, he hosted over 100 town hall meetings, engaging with thousands of voters face to face. They were looking for ideas on improving schools, creating jobs, and supporting public safety. What is clear from those meetings, Tennesseans don’t want a tax increase,” the spokesperson added.
State Rep. Barry “Boss” Doss (R-Leoma), the House Transportation Chairman who jammed through the fuel tax increase in violation of House rules, was defeated in his reelection bid in the August primary by Clay Doggett. Another Republican incumbent who supported the gas tax increase, State Rep. Tim Wirgau (R-Buchanan), was also defeated in his primary against Bruce Griffey. The gas tax issue was a key factor in Wirgau’s defeat.