Coming from a man who spent 27 years in the Tennessee legislature, Ron Ramsey knows that certain votes have consequences.
During a Monday morning Transportation Coalition of Tennessee press conference, Ramsey said he could understand the reasoning behind Washington County’s omission from the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s three-year report of upcoming road projects, which was released last week.
“I think there is some in the House who would not vote for any kind of, what they perceived as, a tax increase. And that’s just wrong because the overall bill cut taxes,” Ramsey, who was speaking as a consultant for the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee, said.
“There was no doubt, in the end, that there was some punishment levied against some House members on funding. Not against the Senate members, but against the House members.”
Examples given by Ramsey included the Senate approving funding proposals for the Sullivan County Agriculture Center and East Tennessee State University, but the House then removing portions of that funding.
“Well, Timothy Hill’s district is the Ag Center. That’s one. I even made a phone call to say, ‘That this is kind of my pet project.’ It’s not up to the House members on that, but still they felt like it was time to ‘exact a pound of flesh’ was exactly the words that I heard,” Ramsey said.
While that logic may apply to most Northeast Tennessee House members who voted against Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, it did not appear to impact Reps. John Holtsclaw and Timothy Hill’s districts.
Holsclaw voted in favor of the bill, but Unicoi County, which he represents, was absent from TDOT’s upcoming road projects report. The Carter County portion of Holsclaw’s 4th District has two projects listed.
Despite Rep. Timothy Hill’s “nay” vote, the Sullivan County portion of his 3rd District also has two projects included in the report.
Johnson, Washington, and Greene counties were all missing from the TDOT road projects report.
“(The lack of Washington County projects) goes back to the House members causing havoc,” Ramsey said. “Actions have consequences. When I was in the legislature, let me assure you, actions had consequences. I’m not speaking for anybody other than that, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.”
Ramsey called some alternative road funding proposals, such as one by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, “irresponsible” for attempting to use general fund monies to pay for the backlog of highway projects.
“To take money out of that (general fund) surplus and spend it on roads, as (some House members) were talking about, would have been one of the craziest ideas I’ve ever heard of,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey touted the gas tax because it generates funding from all road users, including truckers and out-of-state travelers stopping to get gas in the Volunteer State.
“It’s a user fee that half the increase is paid by non-Tennesseans. I think it’s really that simple. It’s based on how much you drive,” Ramsey said.
“There were other alternatives. Yeah, you could start borrowing money. Yeah, you can take money out of the general fund. That’s not the answer to this. The answer, when there is a problem, as a conservative is to step up to the plate and solve it, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Altogether, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee estimates the IMPROVE Act will cut more about $500 million in taxes annually, including $125 million in grocery tax savings and $113 million from manufacturers’ business tax reduction.
TDOT lists 18 upcoming road projects for the Washington County area that total $72 million in investment, although based on TDOT’s report, none will be completed within the next three years.
Bridge replacements and the Boones Creek Exit 17 interchange on Interstate 26 make up 16 of those 18 projects. According to an April TDOT project status report, engineering is currently underway on the Exit 17 interchange.
“We fund by fiscal year in the state of Tennessee, and we don’t buy things we don’t have money to spend on. If the possibility of the money goes into a pot for a year and then you spend it, I have no problem with that because that’s how we run our state, on money we’ve already collected,” Ramsey said.
Monday’s press conference was one of several across the state hosted by the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee that discussed the impact of the IMPROVE Act.
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