Harwell idea delays vote on gas tax

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

House Speaker Beth Harwell has urged that part or all of the $400 million in additional state tax collections should go for new roads and existing road repairs. This is new money coming into the state treasury that was not anticipated when the state budget was enacted a few months ago.

What is significant here is that Harwell is voicing a game plan for the Legislature to tackle the road issue in a way that would enable it to avoid a gas tax increase vote in the 2016 session starting in five months. This would be new money one time for roads and would allow the lawmakers to skip a gas tax vote in an election year.

Harwell is considered a potential candidate for governor and has been traveling the state. She did a Rotary Club talk in Knoxville and appeared for state Rep. Roger Kane over the past few months. She is expected back in East Tennessee several times this fall.

Gov. Haslam with a new chief of staff, Jim Henry, may wish to avoid this contentious issue where success is not assured coming on top of the Insure Tennessee loss last January. Most observers see increasing the gas tax as a high mountain to climb in 2016 when many lawmakers ran on a program of lower taxes.

It is hard to explain a vote for a higher tax if within the recent past you have pledged backing for lower taxes.

■  MPC has been sued in federal court over gender discrimination by its former finance director, Dee Ann Reynolds, who lives in Union County. The new director, Gerald Green, inherits this from his predecessor Mark Donaldson, who terminated Reynolds and was himself then pushed out the door after neighborhood activists across the city called for his ouster.

This will be a fascinating lawsuit as it plays out or is settled, but expect it to go on for months. The plaintiff’s attorney, David Burkhalter, is a pro in these personnel discrimination lawsuits.

The new MPC director no longer works for the Metropolitan Planning Commission but for the two mayors, Burchett and Rogero.

■  David Collins, former chair of the Knox County Commission and city architect, is getting married to Kirby Bell, community volunteer. Wedding will be in June 2016.

■  Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will hold a fundraiser Aug. 4 in Williamson County co-hosted by Gov. Haslam’s parents, Jim and Natalie Haslam. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was in the same county 10 days ago. Williamson County is a popular fundraising spot for national GOP candidates.

■  Art Clancy, 85, former international president of Rotary (the first from Knoxville) and founder of Clancy Optical, is recovering well from open-heart surgery and is now at home. His wife is Sue Clancy, former director of special events for the city of Knoxville.

■  The dedication of Everly Brothers Park will be 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, at the corner of Kingston Pike and Forest Park Boulevard. This happened due to the work of the Bearden Council, Dennis Owen, Terry Faulkner plus City Council member Duane Grieve. Don and Phil Everly attended West High School near this site. Public is invited to the dedication. It should be a great occasion.

■  When Jack Sharp is replaced on MPC this summer, he will complete 40 years of public service to the city of Knoxville with 28 years on City Council (14 years as vice mayor) plus 12 years on MPC. Sharp turns 81 on Aug. 10.

■  Gov. Haslam will host a luncheon for state Sen. Doug Overbey’s re-election on Thursday, July 30, at Cherokee County Club at $1,000 a person.

■  Karen Carson and Jason Zachary will debate at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, at Farragut Town Hall. Public is invited. They are candidates for GOP nomination for state representative from District 14.

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