Gasoline prices across Tennessee continue to nudge towards $3 a gallon. As those prices rise Tennessee voter opposition to the fuel tax increase included in the IMPROVE Act is increasing as well. Despite the state having two billion dollars in surplus and recurring revenues, Governor Bill Haslam and Republican legislative leadership jammed through a $330 million a year fuel tax increase last year, which is phased in over three years. The latest phased increase went into effect on July 1.
A new Tennessee Star statewide poll of 1,040 likely Republican Primary voters conducted by Triton Polling from June 25-28, 2018 indicates that voters are not supportive of the fuel tax increase.
The poll asked: “Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Haslam, to increase the gas tax by 6 cents per gallon and the diesel tax by 10 cents per gallon, to fund road construction. Do you support this gas tax increase?”
35.4 percent of likely GOP primary voters support the tax increase while 51.3 percent oppose the increase. 13.3 percent were not sure of had no opinion.
A year ago, the Tennessee Star Poll conducted at that time indicated that 48.1 percent of Republican primary voters were more likely to support a candidate for Governor who supported repeal of the fuel tax increase while 29.8 percent were less likely to support a candidate advocating repeal.
Currently, with less media attention on the issue and few candidates focused on promoting a repeal the number of undecided voters has increased. Nevertheless, 35.5 percent of GOP likely primary voters are more likely to support a candidate who supports repeal while only 23 percent are less likely. 41 percent indicated that they are not sure or don’t know.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill says the issue of the fuel tax increase is a great opportunity for those running against legislators who voted for it.
“Gas prices have risen dramatically, Republican primary voters generally oppose tax increases — particularly when they are seen as unnecessary, and drivers who are having their teeth jarred by potholes and are still stuck in traffic jams are seeing no benefit from the tax increase,” Gill noted. “Some candidates, like Aaron Shane who is running against State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), are making her vote for the tax increase, after saying she wouldn’t, a focal point of his campaign.” Shane has a website devoted to the issue.
Gill adds that expects other candidates to amplify the issue over the next few weeks as well. “Incumbents who supported raising the tax are vulnerable, but time is running out for their opponents to capitalize on it.”
Other Republican state legislators who supported the IMPROVE Act who now face significant opposition in the August 2 Republican primary include State Rep. Barry “Boss” Doss (R-Leoma), who became the public face of the IMPROVE Act when he rammed it through the House Transportation Committee he chairs by breaking the rules of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and State Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), who promised constituents he would vote against any gas tax increase, then changed his mind and voted for the increase.
Tillis was last seen in May at the Capitol Hill Sheraton in Nashville accepting a campaign contribution from appreciative lobbyists.
It wasn’t an entirely welcome experience for the first term state legislator, who was reminded by Gas Can Man outside the hotel of his broken promise.
Tillis faces a tough primary challenge from former State Rep. Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg).
As for Doss, he was seen in October, sitting in the audience and cheering as disgraced former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry introduced her $9 billion transit tax plan for consideration in a local referendum that was legally authorized under the IMPROVE Act championed by Doss.
Voters in Nashville/Davidson County were not quite as enthusiastic about the Doss enabled boondoggle, resoundingly rejecting it by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin on May 1.
Doss faces a primary challenge from political newcomer Clay Dogget, who has made Doss’s support for the IMPROVE Act and his opposition to the Act a central theme of his campaign, as The Tennessee Star reported when he announced his candidacy.
You can read The Tennessee Star Poll questions on the gas tax at question 10 and question 11 on page 3 of the top line summary of the poll, here below:180629 Triton - Jun 2018 TN Star GOP Primary Survey - Topline Results