I did not support the recently passed gas tax, officially called the Improve Act. I do not necessarily think that only gas taxes should fund roads. My view is that when an agency has their own source of funding, there is less scrutiny and oversight to insure the agency is not wasting money. I tend to think all funding should be decided by the legislative body and every government function should compete with every other government function. I would be pleased if there were no dedicated funding.
I was not persuaded by the argument that the gas tax is a user fee. In theory I like the idea of "user fees" for government services, but in reality there are few true user fees. If you had to pay admission to use a park, that would be user fee. If you had to buy a membership to use the public library, that would be a user fee. A toll road is a user fee. A tax on tennis shoes to fund sidewalks or a gas tax to fund roads is really not a user fee.
I was also reluctant to favor the gas tax, because in the past TDOT has wasted a lot of money. Untold million were spend over the last forty of so years connecting every county seat to an interstate by a four-lane road. I have driven on some of these roads to nowhere and often been the only car on the road for miles. For more on why I think this was a wasteful and ill-advised policy see this link where I expound on it.
Also, TDOT wasting of money is not a thing of the past. In 2013 over $42 million of the gas tax went to building a luxury jet port for the city of Cleveland. I don't know how many bridges could have been repaired for $42 million but with crumbling bridges it seems to spend $42 on a luxury jet port looks like an unwise use of money.
On the other hand, now that I have told you why I did not support the gas tax, let me say that I could not build up much passion about the issue. In fact, on several occasions I was almost persuaded to favor it. This was not something I was going to man the barricades over or even march against. There were good arguments in favor. Things we want cost money and the gas tax has not been increased in 25 years. I believe the argument that the gas tax has not been keeping up with the rising cost of building and maintaining Tennessee’s roads and bridges and that improved fuel efficiency standards and the rise of hybrid and electric cars are hurting gas tax collection. Also, we have capacity to raise the gas tax since we were one of the states with a lower gas tax. There is a big backlog of projects that need funding and we need the revenue.
Also, the increase in the gas tax is being offset by cuts in other taxes. It is basically revenue neutral. The bill reduces the 5-percent Hall income tax by 1 percent each year until the tax is eliminated. It reduces the state sales tax rate for food from 5 percent to 4 percent and it makes some cuts to other taxes paid by manufacturers. I liked the tax cuts that were in the bill. For a summary of what the bill actually does see the legislative summary or read the bill at this link.
Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), who has campaigned for lower taxes for decades declared his support for the IMPROVE Act. Norquist is the originator of the "tax pledge" in which candidates for office sign a pledge saying they will not vote for any tax increase. Norquist said the bill was revenue-neutral.
I am disappointment at the vitriolic rhetoric being used to denounce those who voted for the bill. To me, this is an issue about which reasonable and good people could disagree. I an disappointed in those who condemn those who voted for the tax as evil. I don't know how either side could be so dogmatic as to be assured that their position is 100% right and the other side totally wrong.
John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Associations has been in rant mode for days now. In a Facebook post he said, "Hard working Tennesseans are getting really tired of the ongoing lies and corporate welfare from the Establishment Republicans in Tennessee. We have to have the help of the conservative caucus to expose these traitors so that they can be prosecuted where possible and defeated in all other instances." He is not calling them traitors to their country but as he uses the term in another post, he is calling them traitors to conservative principals.
Harris has been especially critical of Representative Susan Lynn and has called for her defeat when she is up for reelection. Harris is only one of the people expressing anger at those who voted for the bill. Many other conservative activist are also denouncing those who voted for the bill and calling them names and calling for their defeat.
I think a lot of the outrage is faux outrage and motivated by something other than the issue at hand. Advocacy organizations have to keep their supporters riled up to remain influential. Getting people mad at other people is good for fund-raising. Some people with political ambitions need to distinguish themselves from the incumbent office holders and issues like this create an impression on the part of some of the electorate that the incumbent is not conservative enough or is a RINO or is part of the political establishment. It gives the challenger an excuse to enter a primary. Pundits and commentators do not build an audience by being reasonable and thoughtful. You will not hear Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin or Rachel Maddow or Michael Moore say "on the other hand." Pundits and advocates always have to be adamant and indignant. Its good for ratings and business.
To those who opposed the gas tax bill, do you really think that people like Senator Jack Johnson and Representative Susan Lynn are big-government, tax-and-spend liberals who are traitors to conservative principals who need to be defeated?