Tenn. Public’s Anger Defeats Hidden Gas Tax

Published September 1, 2009

An outraged citizenry helped kill a proposed gasoline tax increase in Tennessee that had been slipped into an entirely unrelated measure.

State Rep. Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap) introduced House Bill 1321, which called for eliminating a specialty license plate.

An amendment to the bill, attached while the measure was in the House Rural Roads Subcommittee, added a provision to impose automatic increases in the state’s gasoline tax. The increases would have been based on the consumer price index and were projected to raise gasoline tax revenues by about $13 million a year to start.

Public Anger

The bill was removed from consideration in response to public outrage over the gas tax provision. After news organizations publicized the effect of the bill, taxpayers quickly objected.

The bill also called attention to the Tennessee Legislature’s way of introducing bills. Lawmakers have only 10 days to file bills each session, and they are allowed to file generic bills, which can morph into drastically different measures during the legislative session. HB 1321 was introduced nearly two months before addition of the amendment that radically changed the nature and impact of the bill.

One group that called attention to the hidden gas tax increase was the Nashville-based Tennessee Center for Policy Research. President Drew Johnson said gas taxes hit the poor especially hard.

“This gas tax scheme hoses the people who can afford it the least. It is the most regressive tax I can imagine,” Johnson said. “People with lower incomes tend to drive older cars that get worse gas mileage, so gas taxes disproportionately assault the pocketbooks of the poor.”

‘Ridiculous Concept’

Johnson said, “Pegging gas taxes to the consumer price index is a ridiculous concept. Who in their right mind believes that the rate of taxation on a necessary item should increase when prices are increasing and buying power is diminishing? It strikes me as foolish and economically illogical.”

Johnson added, “As America’s poorest families have to pay more for the essentials of life like food, clothes, and housing, it’ll be even more expensive for them to afford the gas to drive to work. It’s a slap in the face of the working poor, all in the name of green hysteria and lining government coffers.”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.

For more information …

Text and detailed history of Tennessee House Bill 1321: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1321