Soccer, veterans, taxes get tangled in House GOP floor fights

Legislation dealing with a proposed soccer stadium in Nashville and a property tax break for disabled veterans got tangled up with Gov. Bill Haslam’s fuel tax package in contentious quarreling among  House Republicans Thursday.

The results were inconclusive: The soccer bill passed, as expected, and House Majority Leader Glen Casada gave up on his veterans tax maneuver, which began with him declaring:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the House to lead.”

From the Times-Free Press account:

Tempers first flared on the House floor over an unrelated bill (HB6) allowing Nashville direct future sales tax revenue to pay for a Major League Soccer stadium if Tennessee businessmen win approval for a franchise expansion. The bill, handled by GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, of Cookeville, drew harsh questions from Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, an opponent of Haslam’s gas tax.

Sexton questioned Williams on why the Nashville sports authority sales tax bill was acceptable while his and others’ effort to divert sales tax funds for transportation was not.

“I’ve heard it said many times, ‘It’s just not fiscally sound to do that, and yet it’s OK whenever certain parties think it’s OK. I rest my case,” Sexton said. “I just think it’s a hypocrisy that we can do certain things whenever we want to whenever it’s agreed to by certain people, but if you’re not in a certain class down here, you don’t get to do that. I rest my case.”

House Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, agreed. That prompted Williams and others to explain the situations weren’t comparable because the Nashville bill was addressing future state and local revenue that would be generated as a result of a new stadium’s operations if the deal went through.

…Former Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, then weighed in… “There’s been a lot of discussion that’s bordering on breaking our rules,” he said. “We need to be careful about questioning people’s motives and using words like ‘hypocrisy’ and questioning people’s integrity.”

(The bill passed 87-2)

…A second squall brewed later when Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, sought to suspend rules to bring a veterans property tax relief funding bill to committee next week. Republican senators included the relief, albeit in a lower amount, in the transportation bill among other tax cuts intended to balance out the impact of the fuel tax increase on Tennesseans.

Opponents of the gas tax are furious over the Senate’s move, now in the House transportation bill. Some members also have stand-alone bills dealing with the veterans’ tax relief. They and others also aren’t happy with the prospect of voting against the gas tax bill with the veterans’ relief provision in it.

The bill (HB23) is sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, and Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate who may be in line to be nominated by President Donald Trump for U.S. Army secretary.

Local Government Committee Chairman Tim Wirgau, R-Paris, who angered gas tax-increase opponents by ramrodding the transportation bill through his committee over the objections of Sexton and other critics, questioned why one veterans relief bill was being singled out for the preferential treatment. Casada backed off.

(Note: There are three other bills on the subject with Reps. John Forgety, R-Athens; Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville; and John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, as sponsors. All four bills are on notice for votes in the Local Government Subcommittee next week. Casada’s motion was to suspend the rules to let Hill’s bill go immediately to full committee, then to the Finance Committee for speedy approval.)

Later, Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally, of Oak Ridge, and Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, defended inclusion of the veterans property tax relief in the roads bill along with reductions in the sales tax on groceries, a cut in corporate taxes for manufacturers and yet another provision lowering a tax on wealthier individuals’ investments.

McNally said they had to do some persuading for Haslam to go along with restoring the veterans relief after the governor pushed for the reduction a few years ago, saying the current program was unsustainable.

If lawmakers are successful in passing a stand-alone bill and adding the necessary funding as an amendment to the budget, the governor’s line-item veto power gives him authority to kill it.

…Democrats, meanwhile, were amused by all the Republican quarreling, saying the GOP has treated them roughly since Republicans assumed complete control of the House and Senate in 2011.

“Republican-on-Republican crime, as we call it,” quipped Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, to reporters.

Note: See also The Tennessean, which has separate stories on the soccer squabble (HERE) and the veterans tax spat (HERE). The Tennessee Star includes a video of Sexton’s comments in its report HERE (under the headline, ‘State Rep. Jerry Sexton Calls Out Hypocrisy of Gas Tax Supporters Who Oppose Use of Sales Taxes for Road Construction.)




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