Haslam's IMPROVE Act Could Benefit More than Roads
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What started as legislation to tackle Tennessee's crumbling infrastructure and compensate for loss of gas tax revenue from more fuel efficient vehicles now may also help the state's most vulnerable residents.
The State Legislature is expected to give final approval to the IMPROVE Act on Monday. It would raise the gas tax by two cents a year for the next three years, and generate enough revenue to lower some other taxes.
Bill Moore, former chief engineer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said funding these transportation projects is another way of helping Tennesseeans.
"They've identified 962 projects from Memphis to Mountain City that need to be constructed to keep Tennessee competitive,” Moore said. "A lot of these are bridges that school buses can't even cross, the fire trucks can't cross them, because of the weight limitations."
The word "IMPROVE" in the plan's name stands for "Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy." And although it would help fund the state's $10 billion backlog in road projects, the legislation has some opponents who argue it doesn't include enough tax cuts for everyday Tennesseans.
The bill would cut food taxes by 20 percent and lower property taxes for some.
The IMPROVE Act includes a property tax credit for qualifying low-income residents and veterans with disabilities. Shelley Courington, advocacy director at AARP Tennessee, explained why that's important.
"These are the folks who, the trustees say, are bringing in pennies to pay their property taxes,” Courington said. "So, this is such a great benefit to them and really will help some of our most vulnerable citizens stay in their homes."
Moore said something must be done to get the state out of a dangerous cycle of disrepair plaguing many of its roads and bridges.
"TDOT is basically on maintenance mode - there's not enough money coming in to build any new projects across the state,” he said. "So, this is extremely important."
The state estimates that the gas tax increase would cost the average Tennessee family an additional $5 a month, while reducing the food tax would save them $7 a month.