Under tight security, state lawmakers held a public meeting here Friday to discuss the governor’s proposed gas tax increase. And while the meeting went off without shouts of protests and signs, the crowd was mixed in their views on the topic.
Earlier in the week State Senator Mae Beavers and Rep. Mark Pody held a news conference at Legislative Plaza on bills unrelated to the gas tax and were interrupted by protesters and followed out of the event, resulting in Rep. Pody having to be escorted by troopers to the parking lot.
Due to that event in Nashville, coupled with a reported “call to action” via social media, there was heavy speculation protesters would try to disrupt the meeting in DeKalb County. One reported social media post encouraging a turnout in Smithville stated, “If you bring signs it’s probably best to conceal them until you get inside”
Over a dozen uniformed State Troopers, Sheriff’s deputies and Smithville police officers lined the meeting room at the County Complex and then the Troopers lined an exit from the building after lawmakers concluded the meeting. In the end, no one was shouted down and no signs appeared openly in the meeting room.
Beavers, Pody and State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver told the audience they believed there were other ways to fund the state’s transportation department without raising the gasoline tax, as proposed by Governor Bill Haslam. That proposal also calls for the tax to be tied to the Consumer Price Index in future years.
“I think the most egregious part of the proposal is that it is tied to the Consumer Price Index and the legislature will not have to vote to raise the tax (in the future),” said Senator Beavers. “There are other plans out there”
“People are telling me in emails we are taxed enough,” said Weaver. “I think it would be unconscionable to ask people to ante up (more tax money) when we (the state) have a large surplus” in the general fund.
“There are numerous plans out there, but the one I like is one that would take .25 cents of the state sales tax and designate that only for transportation,” she added.
Rep. Pody made it clear there would be numerous plans to consider in the coming weeks and that his goal was to provide a consistent source of revenue for the department so that local governments could count on future funding.
Many local Democrats attended the meeting and made it clear they were in favor of the tax hike. Republican members of the audience voiced the opposing view.
When lawmakers asked for a show of hands of “for” and “against,” the crowd was almost evenly divided.
The lawmakers assured the audience they would consider their views as they prepare to vote on various pieces of legislation relating to the tax hike.