cars on a highway

Gas-Tax Talks Not on Administration’s Immediate To-Do List

by Andrea Zelinski on September 28, 2012

State transportation officials say the state needs to start thinking about how to charge drivers for using state roads, but the governor says there’s no consensus to tackle that issue this year.

While the state transportation department says the issue is squarely on the administration’s radar, Gov. Bill Haslam says the topic won’t be among those he’s interested in come 2013.

“We definitely won’t be addressing that this year,” Haslam told reporters Thursday following an economic development announcement in Nashville, adding that both he and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer believe it’s “inevitable” that the state will have to address that issue down the road.

“The way we’re paying for roads and bridges now won’t work long-term. And I think John’s acknowledging that. That being said, there’s not much consensus about how you do fix that problem,” he said.

Schroer is in the middle of a fall tour to various transportation projects across the state. The department has $9.5 billion worth of projects under development, but only has about $900 million to work with this year.

The issue is nothing new to Tennessee. Schroer told the governor and other high-ranking officials during budget hearings last year that the state will need to reconsider how it collects money for roads as people shift to vehicles that guzzle less gas.

Tennessee charges 21.4 cents a gallon for gasoline, ranking in the bottom third of state gas tax rates in the country, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The state tax on diesel is 18.4 cents a gallon. That’s on top of a federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon on diesel.

The Beacon Center suggests the state consider other options besides simply raising the tax on fuel. The free-market think tank released a report this week analyzing the state’s various options, like charging taxes based on miles traveled, emissions or installing toll roads.

Not all the money from the gas tax is spent on highways. Across the country, the gas tax has been diverted for other projects, including schools, parks and beautification.

Haslam last year said it’s possible he’ll put off serious talk about rejiggering gas taxes until a possible second term.

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