All state fuel tax revenue expected to stay with Tennessee DOT

| Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gov. Phil Bredesen has promised that all revenue from the state's fuel tax will be routed into the Tennessee Department of Transportation's budget for the coming year. Tolls and higher fuel taxes also could be on the horizon.

The state's per-gallon tax on gas and diesel generates about $651 million annually in revenue. Since the start of Bredesen's term in 2003, the governor has diverted more than $200 million from the road fund to help balance the state's budget.

Bredesen restored about $33 million to TDOT for the current budget year, The Associated Press reported. The next budget year begins July 1.

The bulk of the money that will be restored to the agency in the next budget year would go for roads, TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely said this week.

The infusion of funds will be used for construction projects funded fully by the state without federal aid, access roads, highway maintenance and improvements, and mass transit programs.

Nicely also said department officials and state legislators will discuss possible revenue enhancers during the next year. TDOT officials have said an additional $2 billion is needed during the next decade to improve congestion on state roads, The AP reported.

Adding toll roads and public-private partnerships already have been mentioned for further study as well as a boost in the state's fuel tax.

With that in mind, House Transportation Committee Chair Phillip Pinion is drafting measures that would set up a special commission to oversee toll routes and public-private road partnerships.

Pinion, D-Union City, said all alternative funding methods need to be on the table.

Bredesen said he would consider the idea of a toll road. He was lukewarm to the idea of involving the private sector when the state could operate the tolls.

The governor also said he wouldn't rule out a fuel tax increase but he doesn't plan to call for a boost in the rate.