Gas tax passes House and Senate, Republicans divided during vote

Gas tax passes House and Senate, Republicans divided during vote
Tennessee Capitol Building (Source: Public Domain)
Tennessee Capitol Building (Source: Public Domain)
Senate vote on gas tax hike (SOURCE: TN Legislature)
Senate vote on gas tax hike (SOURCE: TN Legislature)

NASHVILLE, TN (WMC) - The proposed Improve Act (Haslam Gas Tax) is one step closer to becoming law after the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate approved the bill Tuesday afternoon.

A vote of 60-37 pushed the bill through the House (HB 534) and, according to the Tennesseean, faced a Senate vote less than 30 minutes after being passed in the House.

It passed the Tennessee Senate (SB 1221) with a vote of 25-6.

The plan will raise the state's gas tax in an effort to finance roads and infrastructure costs within the state.

The plan adds a proposed $.06 to each gallon of gas sold. That is estimated to bring in enough funds to address infrastructure issues.

However, some representatives took to social media to express their discontent with the vote.

Representative Joe Carr (R-Murfreesboro) posted on Facebook his disagreement with those who voted for the gas tax.

"Republicans in Tennessee can't claim to be conservative when they vote to increase taxes with a $1.8 billion surplus," Carr said.

Opponents have long argued that since the state has a large surplus, $1.8 billion to be exact, there is no need to raise taxes.

"I promised that I would not vote for a gas tax hike, I intend to keep that promise," Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) said. "Notwithstanding the many provisions that have been added to the bill to tempt me to change my mind....but I came back to the same thing over and over again. I'm a conservative Republican and I'm not going to tax the people. It's just not in my DNA and it's especially not in my DNA in the presence of a surplus."

Below is the final roll call vote on the bill in the Senate:

Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) posted a photo of the final roll call vote in the House of Representatives on Facebook, along with his disagreement with those who voted for the bill.

Supporters of the bill advocated that although the bill increases tax on gas, it would cut taxes on other essentials and products.

Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) supported the bill and worked with the governor's office to get the bill passed.

"It's a tremendous return on the taxpayers' investment," said Norris. "Somebody said it's not easy, and that's right – it's hard. We did the hard work of looking at where we could return money to the taxpayers and reallocate revenues to maximize Tennesseans return on their investment and to make sure that we reinvest in Tennessee and her future."

Governor Bill Haslam issued a statement regarding the passage of the bill.

"The IMPROVE Act is the largest tax cut in Tennessee history, makes us more competitive as we're recruiting manufacturing jobs and keeps our transportation network safe, reliable and debt-free for the next generation of Tennesseans. While there remains action to be taken on this legislation, I want to thank both chambers for their votes today on the IMPROVE Act, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Reps. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) for their work carrying the legislation."

Lt. Governor Randy McNally released a statement calling the bill a "clear and undisputed tax cut".

"The plans passed by the House and Senate today represent a clear and undisputed tax cut for the people of Tennessee -- the largest such tax cut in Tennessee history. It is a remarkable achievement. Both plans protect our user fee, ensure our continued fiscal stability and maintain of our Triple-A bond rating. It is a victory on all fronts -- for taxpayers, for economic development and for the continued mobility and safety of our citizens. Good roads and solid infrastructure lead to economic expansion and job growth. Tax cuts result in more money in the pockets of our citizens and more entrepreneurism in our state. I am hopeful that the House can add property tax relief for veterans and the elderly to the bill so the General Assembly can officially send the governor the largest tax cut in Tennessee history for his signature."

During a six hour discussion of the bill in the House of Representatives, an alternative plan was proposed by Rep. David Hawk (R-05) that would allow existing funds to pay for the roads and bridges. The Hawk Plan provided for 90 percent of the tax revenue generated by vehicle sales to transportation funding, 64 percent would go to the Highway Fund and would generate $215 million annually, 24 percent would go to counties and generate $81 million per year, and 12 percent would be allotted to municipalities and generate $40 million per year.

That plan failed to pass the House by a vote of 38-58.

However, the Senate Bill version differs slightly from the House Bill, which means the Senate bill will be sent back to the House for a vote on the Senate's version.

The difference? The Senate Bill is seeking to increase property tax relief for disabled veterans. The bill increases the property tax relief for those disabled veterans for property that is valued up to $175,000.

The bill is the first gas tax in the state since 1989.

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