Some State Transportation Funding Initiatives Hit Roadblocks, Others Move Forward

In another busy week for transportation funding initiatives in state capitals, some advanced while others experienced setbacks. Here’s a roundup of what happened in 10 states.

 

  • Arizona: Rep. Steve Farley introduced a bill last month in the Arizona House that would institute a per-mile tax on electric car usage. The bill (HB2257), modeled on similar legislation proposed in Oregon, Washington state and Kansas, would charge electric car owners up to 1.43 cents per mile traveled. The website Smart Planet has that story.
  • Georgia: One of the most closely watched transportation ballot measures this year might not happen as scheduled in July if a group of legislators has anything to say about it. State Reps. Ed Setzler, Rich Golick and Matt Ramsey have filed House Resolution 1350 and companion bill HB 938, which would eliminate a July 31st series of referenda in regions around the state in which voters are scheduled to decide whether to increase the sales tax for a period of 10 years to fund transportation projects in their area. The lawmakers hope to postpone the referenda for two years to resolve what they call “fatal flaws” with the legislation that authorized the referenda including the question of the constitutionality of the tax and whether individual counties in the state’s 12 regions would be able to opt in or out. The Marietta Daily Journal has that story. Setzler and other officials in Cobb County have said they want to reopen the project list for the transportation referendum in the Atlanta area and reallocate millions of dollars designated for a transit line to reversible toll lanes along I-75/575, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gov. Nathan Deal said that while the project selection process was not perfect, trying to reopen the list might create more problems than it solves.
  • Iowa: A measure to increase the state gas tax took one step forward this week. A three-member Senate Transportation Subcommittee approved the measure, which seeks to raise the state’s excise tax on motor fuels by five cents a gallon on Jan. 1, 2013, and another five cents a gallon on Jan. 1, 2014. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier has more here.
  • Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) got involved in a war of words with the state’s Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot over the governor’s plan to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to purchases of gasoline, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun both reported. Franchot recently led a roundtable discussion showcasing industry opponents of O’Malley’s plan. Even as the governor faces an uphill battle on that front however, legislative analysts in Maryland said last week that even if the state could raise $870 million more in revenues for transportation, as recommended by a blue ribbon commission last year, it wouldn’t be enough to meet all of the state’s needs. O’Malley’s sales tax proposal is projected to generate over $600 million. MarylandReporter.com has more on that story. In an article today Josh Goodman of Stateline, who I spoke with earlier this week, uses O’Malley’s sales tax proposal as a jumping off point to look at states with variable gas taxes and their experiences.
  • Michigan: A group of legislators says they will take their time with a plan to increase the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees to raise $1.4 billion a year for roads and bridges. Other transportation bills seeking cost savings and the establishment of a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan will take precedence, The Detroit Free Press reported.
  • Missouri: The Missouri House of Representatives voted Wednesday to prevent the state department of transportation from establishing tolls on Interstate 70. Department officials say without tolls, improvements on the interstate could take 20 to 40 years to complete, KMOX Newsradio reported. Gov. Jay Nixon said this week that the question of tolls should be put to the voters. Sen. Mike Kehoe, a Republican from Jefferson City, has introduced a bill in the state Senate to allow the state DOT to contract with a private company to fix I-70 in exchange for being allowed to charge tolls, according to the Associated Press.
  • Ohio: State department of transportation officials are talking about the possibility Ohio could become the first state in the nation to privatize rest areas in order to generate transportation revenues. A measure to do so could be considered as early as next year, according to Cleveland’s News Channel 5.
  • Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Corbett said this week that his state’s transportation needs are too large for the state budget. His proposed spending plan would actually reduce transportation funding by about 9 percent. “Transportation must be confronted as its own distinct and separate topic,” Corbett said. The governor did not indicate revenue solutions he might favor to address Pennsylvania’s transportation needs, which include the most number of structurally deficient bridges of any state (more than 5,000).  His transportation funding advisory commission last August recommended the state increase motor vehicle registration and license fees and raise a component of the state gas tax to produce $2.5 billion more a year for highways, bridges and transit. The Philadelphia Inquirer has more.
  • Virginia: The state Senate Finance Committee this week passed Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2012 omnibus transportation package without two funding mechanisms proposed by the governor. The committee declined to create the proposed Virginia Toll Authority, which would have the power to impose tolls on bridges, tunnels and highways, and declined to increase the amount of the sales tax dedicated to transportation over the next eight years. Instead, the committee called for indexing the gasoline tax to inflation to generate additional revenues for transportation. But a House subcommittee shot down a similar indexing measure this week, The (Newport News) Daily Press reported. McDonnell and Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton were touting the job creation benefits of the governor’s 2011 transportation plan this week as they push his 2012 plan. Some members of the General Assembly contend the governor’s 2011 plan, which combined bonding and public-private partnership initiatives, needs to be followed by new streams of money, such as a gas tax increase and can’t rely on just funds taken from other sections of the state budget. The Washington Examiner has that story.
  • Washington: The state Senate Transportation Committee this week approved a bill (SB 6582) that would allow counties and cities to raise fees and taxes for transportation improvements. They could choose from a 1 percent annual motor-vehicle excise tax, a $40 annual car-tab fee, and a local gasoline tax of up to 3 cents a gallon. While the car-tab fee could be imposed directly by city councils and county commissions, the gasoline and excise taxes would require voter approval, according to The Seattle Times. The committee also approved a series of fee increases, including an 80 percent hike for driver’s licenses, which would raise an estimated $52 million next year and an average of $80 million each year over the next decade. A task force appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire said last year the state needs to raise $21 billion over 10 years for roads, bridges, ferries and other transportation needs. Gregoire recently presented a plan to raise $3.6 billion in transportation funds, which included a $1.50 fee per barrel of oil refined in the state. That fee has been deemed a non-starter in the Senate, though a stripped-down barrel fee remains alive in the House. The Senate Transportation Committee also recently passed legislation to charge electric car owners a $100 annual fee, The Seattle Times reported.

Infrastructure on Governors’ Radar Screens

As I blogged about a few weeks ago, a number of governors have mentioned infrastructure issues during their State of the State speeches this winter. The website Building America’s Future has an excellent roundup of infrastructure mentions by more than half of the nation’s chief executives.