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Early Showdown for Gas Tax Hike Proposal

The 12-cent indexed gas tax hike isn't even a formal bill, yet it's making waves in a Republican Congressional primary in Sen. Bob Corker's home state of Tennessee. One candidate challenged another to take a position on it.
June 22, 2014, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Will supporting the bipartisan tax plan be the death knell for a Republican, particularly one engaged in a primary battle? 

"U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais today (June 19) questioned whether his GOP primary rival, state Sen Jim Tracy, would support U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s proposed plan to raise the gas tax by tying it to inflation," writes Andy Sher.

Tracy's candidacy webpage boasts of his conservative endorsements. Many conservative groups like Club for Growth and The Heritage Foundation oppose any increase in the gas tax, preferring a devolution approach to federal transportation finance. [See below].

DesJarlais is essentially playing the "he'll increase your gas taxes" card on his opponent, noting that "Tracy introduced similar legislation that would increase Tennessee's gasoline tax by also basing it on the CPI," though he "never brought the bill up in the Senate committee."

Tracy's response: "Under Jim's leadership there have been NO gas tax increases," states his campaign manager.

Asked (by the Knoxville News Sentinelif he backed the concept of indexing, Tracy was quoted saying road building costs had increased some 40 percent while Tennessee transportation revenues remained flat.

Tennessee's gas tax, 21.40 cents, is the nation's 38th lowest [PDF]. Most unusually, it's diesel tax is three cents lower. The gas tax hasn't been raised in 25 years.

Judging by the defensive responses by Tracy, Corker may have a difficult time selling his Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate on his bipartisan plan to keep roads and transit funded, particularly if they are challenged in primaries.

While DesJarlais has indicated his own position on federal transportation finance, if he takes a cue from the Club for Growth, he'll advocate for "devolution, in which money and decisions about spending it would be given to state and local governments," writes Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.

"Rather than perpetuate this failed system (of funding from federal gas taxes), Congress should devolve highway funding to the states and let them fund their own infrastructure needs,” said Chris Chocola, the group’s president. [See his video and prior post here describing a devolution bill.]

Heritage Foundation's Emily J. Goff explains devolution in "opposing view" for USA Today.

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Published on Thursday, June 19, 2014 in Chattanooga Times Free Press
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