Tennessee Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) Aug. 10 called for the state to repay the highway fund $280 million that had been diverted to the general fund between 2001 to 2007.
Tennessee’s Department of Transportation is funded through a combination of “dedicated funding” consisting of federal transportation funding, state gas and diesel tax revenues, and titling of vehicles and registration fees.
Sen. Tracy stated his intention to submit an appropriations amendment once the legislature reconvenes in January 2016 for the second half of the 109th General Assembly, requesting full repayment of the diverted funds over the next two years.
“We have a covenant with our citizens that the gas tax charged by the state at the pump is dedicated to transportation-related purposes and not something totally unrelated. It is such an important principle in some states that it is provided for in their constitutions. This money should have never been diverted for other state government purposes and should have been paid back at the first available opportunity. Instead, we still have a $280 million hole at a time when we are struggling greatly to fund repairs and priority projects. It’s past time for these funds to be paid back.”
The senator’s announcement comes during increased advocacy efforts to raise additional state transportation revenue for Tennessee. After a June admission from TDOT Commissioner John Schroer that the state was approaching a transportation funding crisis, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) began a tour Aug. 5 to raise awareness about the dire need for repair and modernization of the state’s roads and bridges. Additionally, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee launched a group of interactive maps Aug. 4 showing hundreds of unfunded state road and highway projects.