Haslam discusses gas tax, Middle Tennessee transit needs with Nashville chamber

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Jan. 30, 2017 gave his annual State of the State address before the General Assembly. Here are three takeways from his speech, the next to last before leaving office. Joel Ebert and Duane W. Gang / The Tennessean / Wochit

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Gov. Bill Haslam discusses his gas tax proposal with reporters after speaking to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.(Photo: Joel Ebert / The Tennessean)Buy Photo

Continuing his ongoing tour around the state to sell his gas tax proposal, Gov. Bill Haslam stressed the importance of the local option to the .

“Everybody knows we have to do something,” Haslam said, adding that addressing Middle Tennessee’s infrastructure needs to have a big price tag.

Last year, Metro adopted a plan to create a Middle Tennessee regional transit system that is estimated to cost nearly $6 billion.

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Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is for the local option in hopes of a referendum in 2018.

Haslam said the state, which is estimated to have an estimated $10 billion for transportation, can’t provide all the financial assistance to fix Middle Tennessee’s needs.

“If you want to come look at our budget and what we’re bringing in you can realize really quick the state cannot carry a big portion of that load,” he said.

Haslam’s gas tax proposal, which seeks to raise the price on gasoline and diesel by 7 and 12 cents per gallon, respectively, while also making other cuts, would allow local municipalities the ability to hold a referendum to gauge community support for imposing a surcharge on their sales tax rates to fund public transit projects.

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While making his pitch Tuesday, Haslam received applause from those in attendance.

“We think that’s another key piece of this legislation,” Haslam said, adding that his gas tax plan would help provide some financial assistance to Davidson County to address projects like paving interstates.

As was the case when he on Monday, Haslam reiterated the importance of having the conversation about infrastructure this year instead of pushing it into the future.

“I would encourage you if you agree with me to engage in this,” he said. The chamber has been lobbying for the local option.

When asked by an audience member what he thought the state could do in the future to provide assistance in terms of Middle Tennessee’s transit needs, Haslam said the gas tax proposal would be an initial step in the right direction.

“The enabling legislation I do think is a really big deal,” he said.

Although not going into great detail, Haslam admitted the state has a role to play in addressing the area’s transportation needs.

At one point, the governor discussed the continuing economic boom that Nashville has seen in recent years, saying that he didn’t think it was a “bubble.”

“I think it‘s built on a solid foundation of a place with a dynamic economic environment and a place that people want to live,” he said.

Haslam said the challenges for the area are ensuring there is “great public education” and transportation.

“Those are the only two kind of questions marks out there around Metro and Nashville and Middle Tennessee,” he said.

Haslam’s gas tax proposal is expected to be introduced in the legislature before the end of the week.

Joey Garrison contributed to this report.

Reach Joel Ebert at  or and on Twitter .

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