Former Franklin mayor and current Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer spoke to the Williamson County Commission Monday night to laud the benefits of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed IMPROVE Act, an increase in the state’s gas tax.
The act seeks to increase gas and diesel taxes for Tennessee transportation while cutting taxes in other areas, in order to fund $450 million in state road projects in Williamson County.
The County Commission approved a measure to cooperation with the IMPROVE Act on Monday night after John Schroer spoke.
The proposed state act adds a 7-cents-per-gallon increase on the current 21.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax in Tennessee and adds a recommended 12-cents-per-gallon increase to the current 18.4-cents-per-gallon on diesel.
The fuel tax increases would raise an estimated total of $278.5 million for the state and another $120 million for cities and counties, Schroer said. It’s intended to address stagnant funding in Tennessee’s highway fund and begin tackling an estimated $10.5 billion backlog of highway and bridges maintenance and new projects statewide.
“My discretionary road project spending is at a minimum,” Schroer said explaining the need for the bill. He said people increasingly are driving cars with better gas mileage and can afford the increase. “It has been 31 years since we have increased funding for projects in a way like this.”
He said over the next 12 years $450 million of projects on state roads in Williamson County could befunded if the tax is implemented. The state has a long list of projects it plans to undertake.
Critics in the state house, moderate Republicans and minority Democrats, have criticized the act for placing the burden of its tax heavily on the poor. The tax is a flat discretionary-spending levy in that the lower a person’s income the higher the percentage of it the tax takes.
Schroer said the tax is necessary as a funding mechanism because Tennessee is one of only nine states in the country with a law preventing it from having a yearly deficit. This prevents the state from borrowing the money it needs to pay for the backlog of road projects and then pay it back over a number of years because the yearly budgets would not be revenue neutral.
Commissioner Matt Milligan brought up a concern for Spring Hill residents, who choose, or because of home prices must, live there but work far away.
“They have to drive north and back every day, and will be taxed more for needing to go to work,” he said.
“That is their choice,” Schroer said. “I remember when I first moved here in 1976, we had to get a house in Franklin because we could not afford to live in Nashville. It is a choice to live so far away and travel that much.”
Overall, he said the burden is not substantial in an absolute sense.
“This bill will cost the average driver $4 a month, and there is a corresponding deduction on groceries of a dollar a month, so the net cost to the average licensed driver in Tennessee is $3 per month,” Schroer said.