Group using ‘grassroots pressure’ to fight gas tax hike

Georgiana Vines

Georgiana Vines (Photo: News Sentinel)

By Georgiana Vines, Special to the News Sentinel

Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee is spending the summer thanking legislators who voted against the just-enacted gas tax increase and planning “action” days on a variety of issues designed to hold lawmakers at the state and federal level accountable to lower taxes.

That’s the word from Greg Butcher, a summer graduate of the University of Tennessee in business, marketing and economics, who is directing activities at 34 Market Square, Suite 201.

Butcher said about 10 volunteers will spend Saturday (July 15) at the Market Square office making phone calls to gauge how Tennesseans view the gas tax hike. The gas tax went to 25.4 cents per gallon on July 1, a 4-cent increase, while the diesel tax increase also rose 4 cents per gallon, to 22.4 cents.

Greg Butcher

Greg Butcher (Photo: Submitted)

“Stopping the gas tax hike was a top policy priority for AFP-TN,” he said. The group’s “grassroots pressure” kept the tax from being higher, he said.

“The goal is educating voters on the issue, gauging where they are. If (those being called) say they want lower taxes, we will hold (those in office) accountable to them,” Butcher said.

He said AFP-TN would like to see the gas tax reduced but realistically “we won’t see (any prospects) until after the governor’s race” in 2018. “We don’t want the issue of the gas tax to go away. We’ll keep focusing on it. It’s such a key issue for us,” Butcher said.

At the same time the gas tax was increased, the Legislature reduced from 5 percent to 4 percent the sales tax on groceries and reduced by 1 percent the tax on earnings from stocks and bonds.

Butcher has set up meetings over the past few months in communities where legislators voted against the gas tax increase. He said some 70 people attended a meeting in Farragut where state Reps. Jason Zachary and Roger Kane, Knoxville Republicans who voted against the tax hike, were showcased.

In future meetings, the legislators will receive Champions of Propserity awards, he said.

“Accountability is more than sending a mail piece — it’s thanking those who stood up for taxpayers, it’s letting the district know how their lawmakers voted, and it’s reminding people they have a voice, which can be used effectively to change the policies of our state and nation,” Butcher said.

Americans for Prosperity was founded by national conservative political activist David Koch. The Tennessee Chapter takes credit for killing Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act in 2015. The group works to stick to issues, not candidates. In 2016, the group had volunteers knocking on doors to discuss issues in the 13th House District, which is represented by Rep. Eddie Smith, a Republican.

Butcher has been involved as a volunteer in local Republican politics, including organizing supporters of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, when he campaigned for the GOP nomination for president in 2016. Butcher also worked as a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, in the Washington, D.C., office.

He said the Knoxville AFP-TN office is the second in the state with the other in Franklin, Tenn.

CITY ELECTION EVENT: The first of six Go Vote! Knoxville public meetings, for the 1st City Council District race, will be 5:30-7 p.m. today (July 10) at the South Knoxville Community Center, 522 Maryville Pike.

At the community meetings, Mayor Madeline Rogero, current council members and neighborhood leaders will talk about this year’s elections and how citizens can get involved in shaping Knoxville’s future. The Knox County Election Commission will provide voter information, register new voters and demonstrate how to cast a ballot using its voting machines. Candidates will be introduced, and voters will have opportunities to talk one-on-one with them.

Georgiana Vines is retired News Sentinel associate editor. She may be reached at gvpolitics@hotmail.com.

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