Abortion Filibuster Stalls Transportation Bill in Texas; Pennsylvania, Washington Race to Finish Transportation Legislation

The fates of transportation revenue measures were coming down to the wire in three state capitals this week as lawmakers sought to meet budget and session deadlines. I also have updates on a compromise reached in Massachusetts and transportation funding legislation signed in South Carolina.

Down to the Wire in Austin, Harrisburg, Olympia

  • Texas: State Sen. Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster of an abortion measure Tuesday produced some collateral damage in the form of a transportation bill that didn’t get a final vote as Davis ran out the clock on the special session in Austin, The Texas Tribune reported.  Senate Joint Resolution 2 would have asked voters to approve amending the state Constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the state Highway Fund, in the process raising nearly $1 billion annually in additional funding for road construction and maintenance. A bill to create sentencing guidelines for 17-year-old murderers also didn’t get a vote before midnight on the 25th, when the special session was legally required to wrap up. No word yet on whether Gov. Rick Perry will call another special session to ask lawmakers to complete work on the bills. 
  • Pennsylvania: As the final week before the state’s June 30 budget deadline began, the House and Senate appeared to get farther apart on a transportation funding measure. A Senate-passed bill would raise $2.5 billion annually, but neither the House nor Gov. Tom Corbett want to spend that much. According to Jon Schmitz of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, House Republicans this week offered a new proposal that, unlike the Senate bill, would not raise registration, license or other vehicle fees and would not install a $100 surcharge on traffic violations that the Senate bill uses to fund public transportation. The House measure would also move slower in removing the cap on the tax paid by gasoline wholesalers. Overall, it would raise $1.1 billion annually by the fifth year and $1.9 billion annually in a decade.
  • Washington: Budget talks appeared to be progressing this week during the second special legislative session in Olympia, making a potential government shutdown next week increasingly unlikely, the Associated Press reported. Gov. Jay Inslee is also asking lawmakers to complete work on a transportation revenue package before adjourning. The House of Representatives was expected to vote today on their version of the bill, a $10 billion package that includes a 10.5 cent gas tax increase, with six cents of that scheduled to take effect on August 1. The proposal includes more than $1 billion for maintenance of highways and bridges and $3.2 billion for several state road projects, including a controversial I-5 replacement bridge over the Columbia River that has faced opposition among some Senators who think the bridge should not include a light rail component and that as currently designed is too low and too costly.

Other State Transportation Revenue Updates

  • Iowa: Gov. Terry Branstad said this month public support for a gas tax increase isn’t there in his state and policy makers should instead consider alternative sources to fund road and bridge upgrades in the future, The WCF Courier reported. Among the options he suggests: tapping state sales taxes or allocating money from the state gambling profits that go into the state’s infrastructure account.
  • Massachusetts: House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement this week on a compromise transportation bill that would raise $500 million in new revenue for the state’s aging and debt-ridden transportation system, the Associated Press reported. The bill includes hikes in gasoline and cigarette taxes. Gov. Deval Patrick had called for $1.9 billion in new taxes, with $1 billion dedicated to transportation. But the House-passed version of the bill, which Patrick threatened to veto, included only $500 million in new taxes, including a three cent gas tax increase and a $1 increase in the cigarette tax. Patrick said he preferred a version of the measure later passed by the Senate. The compromise incorporates some parts of the Senate bill, including a promise to dedicate an additional $805 million to transportation annually by fiscal 2018 and the redirection of an existing 2.5 cents per gallon gasoline surcharge from the cleanup of underground storage tanks to transportation needs. The two chambers were expected to vote on the compromise this week.  
  • Missouri: Gov. Jay Nixon this week vetoed a bill that would have raised driver’s license fees by $5 and vehicle registration fees by $1.50 to bring in additional $22 million in revenues. The fees have not seen an increase in a decade.
  • South Carolina: Gov. Nikki Haley this week signed a transportation funding bill that could raise more than $800 million for roads and bridges, Tim Smith of The Greenville News writes. The additional funding uses a mix of new revenue from a budget surplus (which would go to repair bridges), reallocated motor vehicle sales taxes (which would go towards repairing secondary roads) and borrowing.  But the governor said her support for additional funding for infrastructure in 2014 would likely hinge on how well the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank follows the state’s priority system in issuing bonds this year. According to a task force appointed by the state department of transportation last year, the state needs $29 billion over 20 years to bring South Carolina roads and bridges up to adequate condition.