Tennessee lawmakers need to address gas tax issue

Editorial Board • Oct 17, 2016 at 1:23 PM

At long last, it appears that legislation will be introduced in the next session of the Tennessee Legislature to raise the state’s deficient gasoline tax. The last time that happened, George Bush Sr. had just succeeded Ronald Reagan as president.

Because lawmakers have failed to increase the tax in nearly 30 years, the state is sitting on $11 billion in road projects including $846 million in work for this region. Because lawmakers haven’t kept the tax current, Tennessee now ranks 40th in fatality rates, 10th in deficient bridges, 16th in rural interstate pavement condition, 19th in urban interstate pavement condition, and 27th in urbanized area congestion.

Unless lawmakers take action next year, tourism and Tennessee’s ability to attract new industry could be affected.

Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer recently noted the state’s transportation system is integral to growing industry. Last year, 161 companies were recruited to Tennessee, totaling $5.5 billion in investment capital and 25,000 in new jobs.

Schroer said Tennessee is one of only a handful of states that have done nothing to change transportation funding.

Raising the gasoline tax in Tennessee has been fully justified. The case has been made. It falls to the legislature to act.

But some lawmakers are already complaining. Some won’t raise a tax — any tax — regardless of need.

When that need is clearly demonstrated yet lawmakers refuse to support it, they are putting personal interests ahead of those of the constituents who elected them. When a lawmaker at any level of government refuses to increase any tax, despite the clear need, he or she is pandering to that segment of the electorate that cares not one whit about their fellow man. In this case, they don’t care whether bridges fall down or potholes destroy your vehicle.

Lawmakers who put their re-election ahead of the best interests of all of the people do not deserve your support.

No one wants to pay more taxes. And we all complain about the condition of streets and highways but cringe when someone suggests taxes be raised to fix them. The need to increase the gas tax is apparent. The question remains, by how much?

That case, too, will be made next year. And when it is, we trust that our representatives will give it due consideration.

Tennessee is sitting on some 200 unfunded state transportation projects and a “needs list” of some 800 projects in all 95 counties. The longer these projects sit, the more they will cost. And further delays could leave the state in a situation where even if it were flush with cash, it would not be possible to catch up with demand. If Tennessee is to continue to succeed in the marketplace of job creation, it must have good roads.

To its credit, Tennessee does not hold any highway debt. But new road development is essentially dead as a result. Tennessee must raise its gas tax and at the same time ensure that all who use the highways contribute to paying for their upkeep.

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