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Commission votes against IMPROVE Act


Staff Writer

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A resolution to increase gasoline and diesel taxes and to cut down the food tax failed at the Washington County Commission’s March 27 meeting in a 15 to 10 vote.

The IMPROVE act—which stands for Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy—is supported by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The commission’s vote on the act is non-binding as the state is yet to hold a final vote on the bill that was created in interest of adding funds to Tennessee’s highways.

The resolution originally stated the gas tax would increase by 7 cents and diesel fuel by 12.  The state’s website also says the IMPROVE Act cuts the sales tax on groceries another .50 percent ($55 million) to 4.5 percent and would bring in $278 million in new dollars to fund 962 transportation projects across all 95 counties.

The state’s website includes other tax cuts too; it says the IMPROVE Act cuts business taxes for manufacturers as well as the Hall income tax (a tax on personal income). The act also places an annual $100 fee on electric vehicles and increases charges on vehicles using alternative fuels.

Commissioner Lee Chase proposed an amendment that included removing the figures from the resolution to allow possible changes in these tax numbers; the act has already switched to a 6-cent increase on gas tax and a 10-cent increase on diesel fuel tax.

“I think it is our obligation to support the highway system that this state and county is responsible for,” Chase said. “Obviously the resolution is not binding. I think most of you are perhaps aware that they (Tennessee Representatives) have publicly stated their position.”

The act has passed through the House’s Local Government Committee and must pass through two finance committees before seeing the full house for a final vote. For this reason, Commissioner Gary McAllister questioned if voting on the act was part of the the commission’s role.

“We’ve sent resolutions up to the state. We sat here for hours one night and debated whether or not we should send it to the state,” McAllister said. “I voted no then (on another resolution) because I didn’t think it was our role to do that.”

“I really don’t know if this is our role to send this forward to the state.”

Commissioner Lynn Hodge said he felt the commission’s vote could have an effect on the way in which the region’s state representatives might vote on the bill.

“If I were a representative in Nashville for this end of the state and I had an opportunity to hear from the people back home or this body or from the different county commissions throughout upper East Tennessee on an issue as hot as this one is, I think I would entertain that information,” Hodge said. “We don’t know how they’re going to vote but I think they would like to know how we stand.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Paul Stanton said he didn’t have a feel for how his constituents felt about the act while Commissioner Steve Light said he had already heard from many who were opposed to the act.

Dan Eldridge said that because the act didn’t effect Basic Education Funding, it would not have an effect on school system funding.