February 17 2017

Transportation Testimony Dominates Debate This Week

Major Initiatives Scheduled for Discussion Next Week

          This past week, infrastructure needs across the state took center stage as transportation committees in both chambers heard from a number of speakers on the issue, including nationally recognized economist Arthur Laffer, representatives from TDOT, the Comptroller’s office and the Governor’s office. In addition, committees heard from the author of a new report from The University of Tennessee analyzing two of the road/bridge funding plans floated so far this session.

          As Governor Haslam makes town hall style appearances across the state touting his comprehensive funding plan that includes a mix of increases and decreases in user fees and taxes, members of the Senate Transportation Committee, the House Transportation Committee and its subcommittee listened to proponents and opponents alike talk about the need for infrastructure improvements. Most members of the General Assembly agree something that our infrastructure system has needs that must be addressed. The debate appears to be on how to fund them.

          When the calendar came out this week for the House Transportation Subcommittee, there was something of an unexpected surprise. SB1221/HB0534 (Norris, Casada), which is the caption bill expected to carry the administration’s IMPROVE act, was scheduled for discussion along with alternative funding plans that have been crafted by various House members. A vote on the funding plans in the subcommittee was not expected this soon as indications are that the 8-member committee is deadlocked 4-4 on the Governor’s plan. However, if an alternative to the Governor’s plan goes forward instead of Haslam’s bill, that will require significant revision to the Governor’s proposed budget which was developed based on a number of tax and fee increases and reductions that are proposed in the IMPROVE act. Some legislators pushing for a quick vote are wanting to do so to allow time for the necessary budget revisions.


          Meanwhile, one of Haslam’s other major initiatives which is receiving a friendlier reception at the plaza is scheduled for discussion in the House Business & Utilities Subcommittee at 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. SB1215/HB0529 (Norris, Hawk) is the Governor’s broadband access proposal. The legislation creates a grant program for promoting the deployment and adoption of broadband internet access services to unserved and underserved areas. It would allow an electric cooperative to provide broadband service within or without the cooperative's service area, subject to certain requirements and provides a tax credit for qualified broadband internet access equipment.

          The following bills being tracked by EMAT are scheduled to be heard in committees next week.


House Local Government, 9 a.m.

          SB0114/HB0052 (Overbey, Carr) Taxes, Real Property - As introduced, authorizes local governing bodies, by a two-thirds vote, to prorate the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner's real property or business owner's personal property, if the property was damaged as a result of a FEMA certified disaster between September 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016; expires on December 31, 2017

House Local Government Sub, 1:30 p.m.

          SB0634/HB1174 (Southerland, Faison) Fire Prevention and Investigation - As introduced, requires counties that have formed a county-wide fire department to report to the state and local government committee of the senate and the local government committee of the house of representatives as to the fire department's date of formation, organizational structure, charitable donations, and funding method

House State Government Sub, 1:30 p.m.

          SB1158/HB0032 (Hensley, Byrd) Natural Disasters - As introduced, this bill creates a Natural Disaster Relief Program to be administered by TEMA, under which a county may request a grant to help offset the costs incurred by the county in responding to a natural disaster if:

  1. A natural disaster occurs within the county;
  2. The county executive declares a state of emergency; and
  3. The damages do not exceed the threshold for federal disaster relief.

“Natural disaster” is defined in the bill as any hurricane, tornado, storm, flood, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, ice storm, drought, fire, explosion, civil disturbance, or other catastrophe that causes or may cause substantial damage or injury to property.

A county receiving a grant may use the money:

  1. To repair or replace public roads, buildings, utilities, and other infrastructure owned by the local governments;
  2. For emergency measures for saving lives;
  3. To protect public health and safety or property; and
  4. To remove debris from publicly or privately owned land and waterways.

TEMA will determine if a county meets the criteria for a grant from the program. A county may only receive one grant per year, and no grant may exceed $250,000. Grants under this bill are contingent upon the availability of funds specifically allocated for the program in the general appropriations act.