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IMPROVE Act passes General Assembly

Staff Reports • Apr 24, 2017 at 8:44 PM

The Tennessee General Assembly voted Monday to pass Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, giving the state its largest tax cut in history, including a 20 percent tax cut on food and the first gas tax increase in years. 

The IMPROVE Act (Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy) is on its way to the governor’s desk after the House concurred Monday with the Senate bill passed last Wednesday 25-6. The House version passed last week 60-37.

The House voted to adopt the Senate’s version of the bill, which prioritizes 962 projects across all of Tennessee’s 95 counties, addressing a $10.5 billion backlog in repairs and updates. The legislation also includes a local option for municipalities to hold their own referendums for tax increases to fund local transportation needs and provides property tax relief to veterans and the elderly. 

“The IMPROVE Act is a conservative plan that directly addresses how we fund our roads and bridges for the first time in 30 years. I thank the General Assembly for passing IMPROVE, and especially Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, and Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, for their work carrying the legislation,” Haslam said.

The increase in the user fees also means Tennessee residents won’t shoulder the entire burden alone, as revenue will be captured from visiting tourists and the trucks moving goods through the state. This continues Tennessee’s history as a pay-as-you-go state, meaning the people who use the roads pay for their upkeep.

“We thank Gov. Haslam for his leadership and the members of the General Assembly for coming together to pass such a historic piece of legislation,” said Susie Alcorn, executive director of the Tennessee Infrastructure Alliance. “This is a great move forward for Tennesseans, and we all will see the benefits of better roads, safe bridges and tax cuts. By using user fees to fund the projects, the IMPROVE Act is the fiscally responsible way to fix our state’s transportation infrastructure needs, and we are glad our lawmakers agree.”

The Tennessee House passed the legislation on a 60-37 vote, as Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, voted against the measure, while Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, voted in favor.

Lynn said roads are the No. 1 issue in the district and her constituents – through nine town hall meetings – expressed they were more in favor of Haslam’s plan than other alternatives.

Lynn said although Haslam’s plan would not be pocketbook neutral for all residents, it would benefit most residents in some fashion. Lynn also said a majority of her town hall attendees were in favor of the legislation.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, who held a joint town hall meeting with Pody and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said she was against how the legislation reached the House floor and the timing of the bill.

“We have denied and ignored transportation needs down here since I’ve been here. Now, we want to go ahead and pass legislation for our irresponsibility and put it on the back of the taxpayers of the working families of this state. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s dishonest,” Weaver said.

Pody tweeted his thoughts on the legislation from the House floor.

“Gas tax is going to pass even though we had other alternatives to fund TDOT without any tax increase. Sorry I couldn’t stop it,” he said.

The Senate passed the legislation on a 25-6 vote as Beavers voted against the legislation.

The House made several attempts to alter Haslam’s plan, including a popular alternative introduced by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville. Hawk’s plan would have redirected a quarter of 1 percent of sales tax directly to the transportation fund, which should create about $291 million of reoccurring money every single year.

Several legislators questioned why money from a surplus could not be used rather than increasing the gas tax. Haslam said he did not want to commit surplus money to the road projects because they are too important and the surplus is not guaranteed every year. 

Among the Wilson County projects are two highly debated roadways in State Route 109 and South Mt. Juliet Road. The State Route 109 project is designated for the roadway from Highway 70 and north to the county line at Dry Fork Creek. The 7.5 miles of work is estimated to cost $18.5 million. The South Mt. Juliet Road project is estimated to cost $25.4 million to address the area between Central Pike and Providence Way. 

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