TN political notebook, holiday edition: A Democrat’s money musings, gas tax increase and other stuff

Mike Stewart: Democrats need long-term funding

Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart writes in The Hill that “movers and shakers in national Democratic politics” have been ignoring state-level politics while Republicans have not – and that’s a big factor in “their most improbable victory year,” the election of Donald Trump as president.

His bottom line:

Democrats in the states need what their Republican counterparts have had for a decade – a well-funded national apparatus dedicated to the specific task of winning down-ballot elections.  This can take many forms, and much of the needed machinery is likely already in place within the DNC, the DLCC and their allies.  But to be real it requires long-term funding and a sustained commitment to turning red legislatures blue again.  Until that happens, Democrats will continue to see their candidates win all the debates but come up short on Election Day.

Pollster: Tennesseans ready for higher fuel tax

John Geer, Vanderbilt political science professor and pollster, writes in an op-ed piece that a majority of Tennessee voters think the state’s roads are in “only fair” or “poor” condition and are ready to support a gas tax increase to improve them.

Specifically, 67 percent favor a 2 cent per gallon increase, 55 percent favor an 8 cent per gallon increase, and 47 percent even favor a 15 cent per gallon increase to improve roads and bridges in the state.

… Despite all the understandable concerns about higher taxes, there are issues and times when government needs more revenue to ensure a brighter future for the state. The results of our latest Vanderbilt Poll suggest that repairing roads and bridges is one of those issues and this is one of those times.

Lamar backs state-level gas tax hike — again

On the gas tax front, it’s pointed out that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander basically endorsed a state gas tax hike in a press release last month as Gov. Bill Haslam’s term as governor is winding down – just as Alexander did back in 1986 when his term as governor was winding down.  The governor-turned-senator says waiting for Congress to provide funding is wrongheaded. An excerpt:

“Why send Tennessee dollars to Washington, D.C., take some out for overhead, add some regulations and send what’s left back to Tennessee? Conservatives who believe in the 10th Amendment ought to want to keep our money at home, let local officials use it to meet real needs and pay as you go with zero debt.”

He added, “That’s exactly what Tennessee did 30 years ago. In 1986, I proposed and the legislature enacted a massive $5.7 billion Better Roads Program. It has done more than anything else the state could have done to attract the auto industry, increase family incomes and spread auto jobs throughout the state.”

The release, interestingly, doesn’t mention a follow-up increase in the gas tax, enacted under former Gov. Ned McWherter in 1989 that provided a good chunk of the money needed to cover Alexander’s road plans. Tennessee fuel taxes haven’t been raised since.

Cutting other taxes: Cover for gas tax boost?

Excerpt from a Sunday News Sentinel column by yours truly:

In the upcoming legislative session, it appears likely that lawmakers will be in the odd situation of considering a tax increase and tax cuts at the same time and, further, it’s conceivable that both could happen in a curious post-holiday gift exchange.

Haslam had pre-Christmas meetings to talk over his taxing plans with legislators last week. One gift idea is that the governor could go along with some tax cuts if Republican legislators would also go along in exchange with a gas tax hike – especially if the whole package is pitched as something approaching “revenue neutral.”

Logically, we are talking about separate pots of money – one for overall “general fund” government use that’s awash in money; the other specifically for building and maintaining roads that’s well short of needs. Most legislators understand that, but they also understand that GOP primary voters don’t like tax increases of any sort and fear the political consequences of backing one.

Still, the idea of exchanging tax cuts for funding of one governmental function while increasing taxes for funding of another might be seen as providing enough political cover against anti-tax fervor to make the risk worth taking for a majority of the 110th General Assembly – especially given that the business lobby generally supports enhanced road revenue and generally favors corporate tax breaks, especially in areas with unfunded road needs.

Durham dealings with real estate developer reviewed

Williamson County real estate developer Don Russell Cameron III’s dealings with former state Rep. Jeremy Durham and others – described as “very unusual” – have been reviewed by The Tennessean. Cameron apparently sold property in Spring Hill to Durham, which the ousted lawmaker then transferred to a company owned by a Spring Hill city councilman and ultimately was used in three housing developments.

The article notes that Cameron has been involved in “hundreds” of land sales and development deals over the past 25 years and that he and his brother/business partner, Tim, were sentenced to federal prison terms in 1991 after pleading guilty to operating an illegal gambling business, money laundering and evading the Internal Revenue Service. As previously reported, a federal grand jury is now looking into some of Durham’s financial transactions, including his campaign finance account.

Camper crusades for bipartisanship

Bipartisanship forms the backbone of state Rep. Karen Camper’s legislative philosophy, according to a profile piece by Sam Stockard. The Army veteran, 58, was recently designated as one of 2016 “Elected Women of Excellence” by the National Foundation for Women Legislators, chairs the diverse Shelby County legislative delegation, sits on the executive committee of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and serves on the Republican-dominated task force set up by House Speaker Beth Harwell to find a compromise means of expanding Medicaid. She attended a White House conference on gun violence, but declares herself a Second Amendment advocate.

DiPietro looks back, ahead

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro has an op-ed piece on three big issues faced during 2016 – sexual assault allegations, diversity and funding – and looking ahead to the coming year with some optimism.

Any one of these thorny issues is complex enough. Confronting all three simultaneously in the past year or so at UT was exceptionally challenging, but overcoming these challenges is critical to the UT system and those it serves, and it’s part of the job for those of us privileged to lead.

Note: This post was updated with the item on Stewart from the original version.

One Response to TN political notebook, holiday edition: A Democrat’s money musings, gas tax increase and other stuff

  • Jerry McDonough says:

    L. Alexander would vote for any new tax. I contend that the people would rather see a gas tax increase that would be designated for roads and bridges and only that; no bike trails, no walking trails or anything other than raids and bridges. Plus, once the roads and bridges are up to snuff, the tax should be stopped until it is needed again. NO SLUSH FUNDS ALLOWED!!!

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