Whitson hopes Improve Act, Hawk plan make it to full committee


Whitson hopes Improve Act, Hawk plan make it to full committee

It’s hard to see where the Transportation Subcommittee might go with two competing plans to solve Tennessee’s road funding, considering how little it has been discussed.

During Monday’s meeting, a handful of its members –– including freshman Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) –– heard about several bills for consideration. Some talks included legislation that could tow cars in handicap spots in private parking lots or bill upping the consequences for protesters in roadways.

During this meeting, which was under an hour, hardly any conversation revolved around either Governor Bill Haslam’s plan or Greeneville David Hawk’s plan. Last week’s subcommittee only lasted four minutes long.

On Wednesday, the subcommittee will have to make a decision about what to send to the full committee. This will largely determine what goes on the floor of the House for a full vote.

The plans at stake

The Improve Act

Titled the “Improve Act,” Haslam aims to help improve the state’s transportation infrastructure, with the hope of creating sustainable road funding for Tennessee.

The legislation cuts $270 million annually in taxes, but it will also include a 7-cent-per-gallon increase on the gasoline tax and a 12-cent increase on diesel fuel. This increase in gas tax will be the first since the late 1980s.

For Tennesseans using gasoline to fuel their cars, it will cost them $4 a month more. The current rate is 21.4 cents per gallon. According the State Comptroller’s Office, that is only worth 11 cents compared to its value when the rate was last set. Money from the gas tax goes to the Tennessee Department of Transportation to fund infrastructure statewide.

In addition, car registration fees would go up $5 per passenger vehicle. It would place an annual road fee of $100 on electric vehicles or those using alternative fuels.

In terms of household spending, Haslam’s plan would cut sales taxes on groceries to 4.5 cents, making a total cut to the sales tax on food of 1 percent.

The Improve Act would bring $278 million new dollars to the state.

All in all, Governor Haslam has said it’s a wash, meaning Tennesseans won’t pay higher in taxes than they did beforehand.

The Hawk Plan

Under the Hawk plan, a quarter of 1 percent of the state general sales tax would be dedicated solely to the state transportation fund, creating a reliable and sustainable funding source that does not raise taxes.

In total, the plan would transfer $291 million per year to the Tennessee Department of Transportation and local governments to be used on road construction projects and infrastructure. Indirectly, some of these funds are from the surplus, but would generate money year after year.

During the committee process, legislators have tacked on amendments to Hawk’s plan, which the committee could discuss at length later in the week. At Monday’s committee meeting, Hawk said that he didn’t necessarily agree with the proposed amendments on his bill.

What Whitson would like to see

A white notebook full of transit information, Franklin’s District 65 representative knows transportation is anything but easy.

Having determined that, Whitson said he hopes both could somehow find their way before the full committee.

“I believe plans of this scope need to be in committee for a great cross section,” he said. “We have to do something. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is broken. We can’t expect help past 2020.”

From the phone calls he’s received from District 65 residents, he said it was 60/40 for the governor’s plan. Whitson residents mostly want the legislature to do something to alleviate their traffic woes.

“We are facing a different kind of problem down here,” he said. “We are maxed out on traffic.”

The subcommittee will meet again Wednesday, March 1, at noon.

Emily West covers the City of Franklin, education and the state legislature for the Franklin Home Page. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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