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Tennessee Governor Touts Gas Tax Hike, Free Community College for Adults in State of State Address

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If Tennessee legislators say yes to everything Governor Bill Haslam touted Monday evening, you'll pay more while driving to the grocery store, but you'll save while shopping. 

And if you've never earned a college degree, you could get one tuition-free.

During his seventh State of the State Address in Nashville, Gov. Haslam proposed Tennessee become the first state to offer tuition-free community college for all adult residents. (High school students are already eligible under the Tennessee Promise program. Right now, only some adults are eligible to attend certain schools without paying tuition or fees.)

The Tennessee Reconnect Act would give more adults a chance at higher education. Any of the state's 13 public community colleges would be available to residents who meet certain eligibility requirements:

Not already have an associate or bachelor degree; Have been a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant; Complete the FAFSA and be deemed an independent student; Be admitted to an eligible institution (any of the state’s 13 public community colleges) and enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part time (6 semester hours) beginning with the 2018-19 year; and Participate in an advising program approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

 
During the State of the State Address, Halsam also touted his proposal to lower state sales tax on groceries by half a percent, which would be  in addition to a previous reduction.

"In addition to the half percent we cut several years ago," he said, "[this new cut] would mean a full percentage cut in the grocery tax since 2012. This new cut would save Tennesseans $55 million annually on their grocery bills."

Earlier this month, Haslam proposed raising the state's gas tax. Prices at the pump would go up by seven cents per gallon for unleaded, and even more for diesel. The extra revenue would fund new roads and transportation improvements.

But the Americans For Prosperity organization questions whether a tax hike is really needed, considering the state has a current surplus of more than a billion dollars.

Monday night, Haslam responded to such critics. 

"I have never thought that it was a good plan," he said, "to pay for a long-term need, like $10.5 billion in... road projects, with a short-term surplus."

State residents wouldn't bear all the burden of the increase, according to his plan--he said he estimates that, with his gas-tax hike, half or more of the needed revenue would come from non-Tennesseans and trucking companies.

Almost immediately after Haslam finished delivering the 2017 State of the State, the Tennessee Democratic Party issued a statement criticizing the governor--not because of what he said, but because of what he didn't say.

Mary Mancini, the party chair, chided Haslam for not addressing issues such as access to healthcare.

"Governor Haslam painted a pretty picture of the Tennessee we can be, but it’s not the whole picture," she said. "We’re also a state where hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans still do not have access to affordable health care, including almost 30,000 veterans."

Listen to Haslam's complete address below:

013017TNStateOfState.mp3
Listen to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's 2017 State of the State Address.