Administration and Finance

Nevada’s key partnerships at the intersection of transportation and technology, including on autonomous and electric vehicles, were in the spotlight last month as the CSG Transportation & Infrastructure Public Policy Committee convened during the CSG National Conference in Las Vegas. The meeting included remarks by committee vice chair Nevada Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon, a discussion of CSG’s 2017 focus on autonomous and connected vehicle policy and industry and policy updates from officials representing the Association of Global Automakers, Audi of America and Uber.

2017 was a big year for state transportation funding efforts, following in the footsteps of recent odd-number years 2013 and 2015 that also saw significant activity. So, what’s on tap for 2018? Here’s my annual look ahead.

Infrastructure investment was a big winner on Election Day 2017 as a variety of state and local ballot measures around the country to raise taxes or authorize borrowing won voter approval. Here’s a roundup of what happened Tuesday and a look ahead to 2018.

While 2017 is considered an off-year in most state election cycles, Election Day this year still will find transportation on the ballot in a variety of ways. From two key gubernatorial contests to state and local ballot measures, here’s a preview of what to look for on November 7 as well as updates on a few transportation-related matters already decided by voters.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on October 6 announced the latest recipients of federal grants to enable testing of alternative methods of transportation funding. The $95 million Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives program was established under 2015’s FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act.  

President Trump this week appeared to back away from what was expected to be a cornerstone of his plan to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. Meanwhile, federal autonomous vehicle policy gets an update from the U.S. Department of Transportation and in new legislation expected to go before a U.S. Senate committee next week.

CSG Midwest
Stuck between the reluctance to raise taxes and the omnipresent need to fix transportation systems, legislators and governors may well feel the frustration of drivers caught in traffic. In Wisconsin, for example, Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly and Senate Republicans have been at odds over how to close an almost $1 billion deficit in transportation spending. Walker’s initial $6.1 billion transportation budget, unveiled earlier this year, included a $40 million increase in general transportation aid to local governments and $500 million in borrowing.
In early May, Assembly Republicans proposed raising gasoline taxes to pay for roads while significantly cutting income taxes over the course of a decade, moving from the state’s progressive income tax to a 3.95 percent “flat tax.” Their plan includes new fees on hybrid ($30) and electric vehicles ($125) and the elimination of tax credits aimed at homeowners. It also would cut the existing 30.9-cent per-gallon fuel tax by 4.8 cents while applying the 5 percent state sales tax to fuel purchases.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated those changes would increase revenue by about $380 million over the next two years, most of which would be used to reduce the borrowing that Walker proposes (from $500 million to $200 million) and to eliminate a transfer of funding from the general fund to the transportation fund.
Gov. Walker rejected the plan’s new sales tax on gasoline, saying it amounts to a new gas tax, but has indicated that he’s open to the tolling of interstates (another proposal from Assembly leaders), if such a plan brings in revenue from out-of-state drivers and is linked to a reduction in the gas tax.
A budget all sides can accept remained elusive as of mid-June. Absent a budget in place before the state’s new fiscal year began on July 1, funding would continue at current levels until one is approved.
Since 2012, six Midwestern states — Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — have raised gas taxes to provide additional transportation funding. Collectively, half of all U.S. states have enacted transportation funding packages since 2012 to make up for the erosion of gas tax revenues by inflation, says Joung Lee, policy director at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
CSG Midwest
Indiana has become the latest state in the Midwest to raise the gas tax and user-based fees to generate more revenue for its transportation infrastructure. The 10-cent increase on motor fuels takes effect on July 1; it will result in Hoosier motorists paying a total of 28 cents per gallon of gasoline. In subsequent years, through 2024, Indiana’s gas tax will be indexed to inflation, though annual increases will be limited to 1 cent per gallon.

Last December, I compiled my annual list of the states to watch on transportation funding. Last month we followed that up with a CSG eCademy webinar featuring Alison Premo Black of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and reporters from three key states. With legislative sessions well underway in many places, it’s time to see where things stand in the debates about transportation funding going on around the country.

While the number of states exploring transportation funding options in 2016 was down from 2015’s record pace, 2017 could see significant activity. Several states had special task forces in place in 2016 to discuss funding options, while others have targeted 2017 as the year for action or are completing unfinished business from years past. During this annual CSG eCademy webinar, we’ll hear from transportation experts and statehouse and transportation beat reporters about what could lie ahead in 2017 legislative sessions around the country.

Pages