by Danny Wade
When State Representative Curtis Halford spoke to Humboldtans last Friday, he touched on several key issues the General Assembly will be tackling during this session. The proposed gas tax was at the top of the list.
Halford regularly is a guest of the Humboldt Rotary Club each year to give a legislative update. He is in his ninth year and into his fifth term, serving the people of Gibson County and a portion of Carroll County.
“This is a strange year—unusual,” Halford said of the 110th General Assembly this year. “Typically there are two or three big issues. This year it’s just taking care of business.”
“Fiscally,” Halford said, “Tennessee is in as good a shape it’s every been with surpluses in many cases. We’re in an envious position. Other states wish they were in as good a shape as we are.”
Halford said Tennessee’s proposed budget this year is $37 billion with a surplus close to $1 billion. He said Tennessee is fortunate to have that surplus. He added that the state hasn’t taken on any new debt in two years now.
With the large surplus, the state was able to cut taxes to the tune of $500 million. Plans are to cut the grocery tax a full percent this year. It has been projected to only cut a half-percent. The Hall Tax will also be trimmed 3.5-percent with a plan to eventually do away with it.
The budget fully funds Basic Education Program (BEP) to fund education, and raises for teachers, he noted.
The biggest issue in Nashville this session is Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed gas tax. Haslam originally proposed a 7-cent increase on gasoline and a 12-cent tax hike on diesel.
“It changes daily but it is in full committee,” Halford said of the gas tax. “Some people want to make changes.”
The latest version has decreased from seven cents on gas to six cents, and from 12 cents for diesel to 10 cents. It has been proposed to stretch the increase over three years. For gas, next fiscal year the increase would be four cents, then add another 1-cent the following year and another cent the year after. The same would go for diesel with four cents next year, three cents more the following year and another three more in the third year. Halford said he is in favor of this plan.
“How does that work out?” Halford posed the question as to how much the average driver will pay. “If you drive 20,000 mile a year and get 20 miles per gallon, that’s 1,000 gallons of gas. At four cents, you would pay $40 a year.”
Halford said with the proposed reduction in grocery tax, most Tennesseans would come out better, saving more than the $40 extra spent on gas tax.
Halford also said when he drives up and down the interstate, most of the vehicles he sees are from out of state. Those vehicles are wearing Tennessee highways and should help fund the maintenance and repairs.
Currently Tennessee has an 18.4-cent gas tax per gallon. Even if the proposed increase goes through, Halford said Tennessee would still have a lower rate than some neighboring states, while others, Tennessee would be higher.
The representative said he was pretty sure the gas tax would pass in the Senate but was skeptical of the vote in the House. He praised Governor Haslam for traveling the state to answer questions regarding his proposal and thinks that will change some legislators’ minds to support the gas tax.
Halford spoke on the push to provide broadband internet across the state. He noted there are several locations in rural West Tennessee that are not serviced by a broadband provider. He said there is a proposed $30 million over three years planned to bring broadband internet to all Tennesseans.
Speaker of the House Beth Harwell appointed Halford to serve on the new Opioid Task Force. He said there has been a surge in the use of cocaine and heroin, especially in east and middle Tennessee. Last year, 1,451 Tennesseans died from prescription overdoses. Children are being born addicted.
Halford said each year there are bills presented for legislation but with so many, it’s hard to get them out of committee or passed. The Opioid Task Force will try to simplify those bills and create one good bill, Halford said.
Halford will be leaving for Nashville this weekend. He told everyone to give him a call and that his door was always open.