Future of Transportation on the Ballot in 2016 Election

Tuesday November 8th appears likely to be a pivotal Election Day for the nation’s transportation and infrastructure. With control of The White House and Congress on the line, the future direction of the federal transportation program is also at stake. With control of governorships and state legislatures on the line, so too could be initiatives to seek additional state transportation investment. Meanwhile, communities like Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle will consider ballot measures that could enable major investments in public transit over the next few years. And voters in Illinois and New Jersey will decide whether to place constitutional protections on the use of transportation funds.

The President & Congress

It may not have come up much during the presidential debates this Fall but regardless of who is elected president next month, infrastructure investment could be a high priority and one that could potentially find common ground in what is likely to be a closely divided Congress.

Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a five-year, $250 billion investment in the nation’s infrastructure that would be made possible through a new national infrastructure bank. Republican Nominee Donald Trump has said he wants to spend at least double that amount with the help of low-interest bonds.

A new Congress will weigh whether to move forward with either of those plans and whether to make any changes in the kinds of projects the federal government chooses to invest in. They will do so as they keep one eye down the road on 2020, when 2015’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (or FAST) Act will expire and Congress will once again need to find a way either to supplement available gas tax revenues to fund programs and projects or to bring revenues and expenditures more closely into line. Failure to start considering how to address this issue early could saddle states with the kind of uncertainty they faced in the years between the expiration of SAFETEA-Lu in 2009 and the passage of the FAST Act last year. The new Congress also will be keeping a close eye on a series of federally funded pilot projects to test alternative user fee-based revenue options such as mileage-based user fees.  

Governors & Legislatures

Gubernatorial contests will be decided this year in 12 states—Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Infrastructure investment has become an issue in the Montana Governor's race, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock faces Republican challenger Greg Gianforte, The Missoulian reported earlier this year. Both candidates believe it’s past time for the state to make significant investments. Bullock wants to spend $200 million over two years on sewer, water, road and school projects and create a new infrastructure trust fund monetized by tapping interest revenues from the state’s $1 billion Coal Severance Tax Trust Fund. Gianforte has supported a plan that would divert any new coal tax revenues to build the trust fund.  

Three candidates are vying for governor in Indiana—Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, Democratic former House Speaker John Gregg and Libertarian Rex Bell. Despite the recent use of $1 billion in one-time surplus funds for needed infrastructure repairs, the state still faces a $250 million annual transportation funding deficit and the need for a long-term funding solution to account for declining gas tax revenues, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported in August. Holcomb has declined to automatically oppose tax increases but has said he wants to see what a bipartisan task force on funding Indiana’s roads comes up when they issue a final report in December. Gregg wants to leverage $300 million in reserve funds set aside as part of the 2006 Indiana Toll Road lease to borrow $3 billion for immediate spending on local and state road and bridge improvements. Bell has talked about the need to dedicate all state revenue from road-related taxes entirely to road and bridge maintenance. Currently $408 million of the state sales tax on gasoline is deposited in the General Fund.

Control of state legislatures also could have an impact on whether states will move forward with infrastructure investment plans. In Minnesota, where Democrats control the Senate and the Governor's office and Republicans control the House, the two parties haven’t been able to reach agreement on how to find the money for upgrading the infrastructure. Democrats support increasing the gas tax and registration fees, while Republicans want to tap the state surplus and move other revenues around, as Dan Vock of Governing noted recently.

Ballot Measures

But one of the biggest transportation-related election stories could be the enormous sums that would result if ballot measures around the country win voter approval next month. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reports that $200 billion is at stake in public transit ballot initiatives in 31 communities, counties and states nationwide. Among them:

  • California: Los Angeles voters will decide whether to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to raise $120 billion over the next 40 years for trains, buses and highways. Voters in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) meanwhile will consider a half-cent sales tax to raise $6 billion over 30 years for new Bay Area Rapid Transit stations and other projects.
  • Washington: Seattle voters will consider new sales and property taxes to raise $54 billion to fund an expanded light rail network and other enhancements.
  • Georgia: Atlanta has a $2.5 billion measure that asks voters to increase the sales tax to expand rail and bus service over the next four years.
  • Michigan: Voters in metropolitan Detroit will decide on a $4.6 billion plan to build out a regional rail and bus transit system. The region is the largest in America that doesn’t already have such a system, Robert Puentes of the Eno Center for Transportation noted in a U.S. News & World Report op-ed recently.
  • Indiana: Indianapolis voters will decide on a .25 percent income tax increase that would expand frequent bus routes, extend service hours and enable the development of three bus rapid transit lines.

Voters in Kansas City will weigh the benefits of light rail as they consider a sales tax. Add to those ballot measures in Broward County, Florida, Wake County, North Carolina, and Charleston County, South Carolina along with measures to authorize bonding for transportation projects in Maine and Austin, Texas and there is a lot on the line November 8th.

Lockbox Measures

Meanwhile, two states will consider ballot measures next month that would put constitutional protections in place to protect transportation funds from future budget raids:

  • Illinois voters will consider a constitutional amendment that says transportation-related taxes and fees shall be used exclusively for transportation-related purposes, including costs related to administering transportation and vehicle laws, public safety purposes and the payment of obligations such as bonds; the state or local share necessary to secure federal funds or for local government transportation purposes as authorized by law; the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance, and operation of highways, mass transit, and railroad crossings; expenses related to workers’ compensation claims for death or injury of transportation agency employees; and to purchase land for building highways or buildings to be used for highway purposes.
  • New Jersey’s measure is intended to complement the recently approved 23-cent gas tax increase in the state by guaranteeing that the increase as well as revenues from the existing 10.5 cent gas tax, the three cents from the current diesel fuel tax not already dedicated for transportation purposes and all revenue from the current tax on petroleum products gross receipts go into the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. 

Transportation for America’s Capital Ideas II

Hot on the heels of next month's election, efforts by states to raise money for transportation through innovative state legislation will be in the spotlight as Transportation for America hosts Capital Ideas II in Sacramento, California. CSG is pleased to be a promotional partner for the two-day event (November 16-17), which will offer attendees a highly interactive curriculum of model state legislation, campaign tactics, innovative policies and peer-to-peer collaboration designed to help them advance successful state transportation policy and funding proposals. Just in time to get a jump on the 2017 state legislative sessions, Capital Ideas II (no affiliation with CSG’s magazine Capitol Ideas) will also examine how state departments of transportation are instituting reforms and how California and other states are leading the way in policy innovation. Among the other topics on tap: enabling local transit funding, incentivizing complete streets, project selection process reform, mileage-based road usage charge pilot studies and capturing the value of transportation investments. The latest tentative agenda for the conference is available on the T4America website. Registration is available here. For an idea of what the first Capital Ideas was like in 2014, you can read my coverage of the event here, here and here

CSG Resources

Other Resources

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Ballot Measures

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Presidential Race

Congress

Lockbox Measures

Gubernatorial Races