Dear Tennessee Republican Representative & Senator:
We, the undersigned grassroots activists of Tennessee, are writing to you to express our deep concern over Governor Haslam’s IMPROVE act, informally referred to as the Gas Tax. As you know, the Tennessee Republican Party has historically lauded its commitment to lower taxes and limited government. In support of those values, millions of votes have been cast over the last decade in our state. And hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans entrusted you to uphold those values, as you consistently committed to us, when you were appealing for our votes.
Our concern and opposition to the Gas Tax legislation is for these simple yet fundamental reasons:
Surplus: Tennessee has enjoyed record receipts, with a nearly $2 billion surplus last year. The best estimates suggest that these surpluses of hundreds of millions of dollars per year will continue for at least the next several years. We are all grateful for this good news. Yet, fundamentally, when a government realizes budget surpluses, it simply means that it has overtaxed the citizens. Thus, any accountable steward would conclude that 1) taxes are too high and should be reduced or refunded to the taxpayer, or 2) needs that were not contemplated in the budget could be met with those surpluses. Yet, Governor Haslam, and many in the Republican delegation, have preferred to raise the Gas Tax, versus utilizing the past surpluses, and ongoing projected surpluses, to address our state’s road and infrastructure needs. This is wrong. We expect better. And we remind you of your pledge to each of us… to contain government and lower taxes — not increase them.
Tax Cuts: As you know, Governor Haslam’s bill attempts to offset the Gas Tax increase by reducing certain other taxes, including Sales Tax on groceries, Franchise & Excise Tax, & the Hall Tax. While we acknowledge those cuts, we reject the intent by Governor Haslam and many Republican legislators to suggest that all taxes are equal. They are not. While all Tennesseans will pay the Gas Tax, all Tennesseans will not receive an equivalent reduction in their taxes to compensate for the Gas Tax increase. Specifically, the grocery tax reduction represents less than half of what a typical individual will pay in the fuel increase at the pump. No individual Tennessee taxpayer will see any benefit in the F&E Tax break as it is a business related tax. Finally, the vast majority of Tennessee taxpayers will also not see any benefit from the Hall Tax reduction, since it applies to a small minority of upper income taxpayers. It should also be noted that the Hall Tax reduction was legislated in 2016 and was to be phased out over the next six years. So now, a year later, to claim that the reduction is an offset against a Gas Tax increase in 2017 is at best double counting, and at worst, deceptive.
Sleight of Hand: Transparency in government is something taxpayers expect, but seldom get. So when we see what appears to be an obvious attempt to deceive Tennesseans, we must call it out. We are deeply troubled by the recent renaming of the IMPROVE act by the Republican delegation to its new title, “Tax Cut Act of 2017.” Really? Is this what the intent of Governor Haslam’s legislation was — to cut taxes? Or was it to improve roads? As already noted, this is NOT a tax cut for individual Tennesseans. And secondly, the purpose of the IMPROVE act was never to reduce taxes but was to allocate funds for roads. So this sleight of hand by Republican legislators in renaming a road repair & construction bill to a tax cut bill is not only offensive, it is the lowest form of deception by men and women to whom we have entrusted and lent the keys to government. If this is how we are repaid, then our votes of support in prior elections were deeply misplaced.
So we call on each of you to step back from this precipice. Regroup. Rethink. Listen. There is a better way. The Bible says, “Come now and let us reason together…” Common sense, something that is not so common anymore, suggests a different course. We the People of Tennessee, respectfully ask you to reject any bill that will increase any tax during a time of surplus. Rather, we respectfully ask that you redirect those surpluses to fund the road budgets that are needed.
Regardless of who you supported for President last year, there is one lesson that all of us should have learned, when Donald Trump was elected. The voters still retain the power in our form of government. We seek to continue to affirm the Republican majority that we have played a significant role in securing for the Volunteer State. But that majority is only beneficial if it upholds the values we all affirmed. We respectfully remind you of those values of lower taxes and limited government, and ask that you embrace them again.
The Grassroots of Tennessee