BY: AMY NOLAN

Gov. Bill Haslam signed this spring the largest tax cut in state history and paved the way for a safer transportation system that will help continue Tennessee’s economic momentum.

The Knoxville Chamber was among many business organizations that backed the governor’s legislation, the IMPROVE Act, as did the Knox County legislative delegation with just two exceptions.

Supporters included Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Sens. Richard Briggs and Becky Duncan Massey, as well as Reps. Harry Brooks, Martin Daniel, Bill Dunn, Eddie Smith and Rick Staples.

“We hope Knoxville Chamber members will reach out to these lawmakers and thank them for supporting this legislation that continues the tradition of maintaining and building roads with a dedicated revenue stream and without taking on debt,” said Susan Richardson Williams, chair of the Knoxville Chamber’s Government Relations & Public Policy Committee. “At the same time, the legislation acknowledges a current surplus in revenue and reduces taxes on food, provides tax relief to veterans and the elderly, and makes our state more competitive in recruiting manufacturers.”

Mike Edwards, the Knoxville Chamber’s CEO, added, “We should be proud that a clear majority of the Knox County delegation listened and analyzed the facts and then cast their votes for this conservative, forward-thinking legislation. I encourage members to express your appreciation to them.”

The legislation’s most controversial feature is a 6 cents increase, to be phased in over three years, on gasoline taxes and a 10 cents increase, also effective gradually, on diesel fuel. The last time fuel taxes were raised was in 1989, and roughly half of that revenue is paid by out-of-state travelers and trucking companies. The bill also increases the user fee for electric vehicle owners.

Money generated by transportation-related taxes will be dedicated to 962 projects across all of Tennessee’s 95 counties, addressing a $10.5 billion backlog in repairs and updates. Among improvements slated for Knox County are projects focused on improving safety on Alcoa Highway, Chapman Highway, Kingston Pike at Northshore Drive, and Pellissippi Parkway at Oak Ridge Highway.

The legislation also allows local voters, through a referendum, in the state’s largest counties and its four largest cities, including Knoxville, to impose a surcharge on taxes they already collect to be dedicated to transit projects.