Transportation Ballot Measures 2016

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States have sought to empower localities to raise money for transportation in recent years.

  • Indiana lawmakers passed SB 176 in 2014, which allows six counties in the Indianapolis area to consider increasing local income tax rates and dedicating the revenues to public transportation.1
  • Utah’s 2015 state transportation funding package, HB 362, gave counties the authority to go to the voters with a local option sales tax to fund multimodal investments in roads, transit, bike/walk infrastructure or other local needs.2 A total of 17 of the state’s 29 counties put the measure on the November 2015 ballot and 10 won voter approval.3

2015 was a big year for transportation-related ballot initiatives and 2016 appears likely to follow suit.

  • Voters in eight states in 2015 approved 26 of 37 (70 percent) state or local referendums to increase transportation funding.4
  • The Center for Transportation Excellence, which tracks transportation ballot measures, lists nearly 50 state or local measures that either already have been or  that could be on 2016 ballots in 15 states.5

While many ballot measures won’t be considered until November, a handful have already received a vote in primary and special elections.

  • Voters in Portland, Oregon, in May approved a temporary 10-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline within city limits. The measure, which creates the highest local gas tax in the state, sunsets after four years and is expected to bring in $64 million for road repairs and pedestrian and bike safety improvements.6
  • Austin, Texas, voters in May decided against a measure to overturn city requirements on rideshare services Uber and Lyft that include fingerprinting of drivers, which prompted the companies to halt service in the city.7

Public transit is a major focus of ballot measures this year.

  • Los Angeles County voters could consider a measure to renew an existing half-cent sales tax to fund transportation in the county and add an additional half-cent sales tax to expand and improve light rail and subway lines.8
  • The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill in 2016 that allows the city of Atlanta to hold a November referendum on a 40-year, half-percent sales tax to fund the expansion of the MARTA transit system. Senate Bill 369, recognizing differences between the city and the rest of Fulton County, also splits the county into two districts allowing for the vote in the city only. But a separate sales tax measure could be on the ballot for the rest of Fulton County to raise $1.2 billion over five years for road and transit improvements, if county officials get their way.9
  • Marion County, Indiana, voters will consider a 0.25 percent income tax on the November ballot that would raise $56 million a year to fund improved service and new bus rapid transit construction. The ballot measure is the result of the aforementioned SB 176, which allows counties to establish mass transit plans through ballot referendum.10
  • Voters in Seattle will be asked to consider a measure that includes a mix of sales taxes, property taxes and car registration fees to help Sound Transit build upon the Puget Sound region’s mass transit system of light rail, commuter rail and bus services.11
  • Lack of agreement by state officials in California on ways to fund transportation, the cancellation of transportation projects by the California Transportation Commission due to declining revenues from the state’s gasoline excise tax—which is tied to gas prices, and a need for $9.6 billion in capital improvements over the next decade are among the factors that have led Bay Area Rapid Transit, the regional rail service in the San Francisco Bay Area, to place a $3.5 billion bond measure on the November ballot.12
  • Four counties in Southeast Michigan could be asked to vote this November on a 1-mill property tax increase that’s expected to raise an estimated $130 million annually for 20 years. The increase is being sought by the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority to expand bus service and possibly fund regional commuter rail services.13 The millage would add $1.20 in taxes for every $1,000 of taxable value in a property. An owner of a $150,000 home would pay $90 per year starting in 2017. The transit authority board is expected to vote in July on whether to place the millage proposal on the ballot.14
  • Commissioners in Broward County, Florida, are considering going to the voters with a 1 percent sales tax increase that would raise $12.6 billion over 30 years to help fund miles of light rail transit and neighborhood transit centers, along with roadway construction, sidewalks and greenways.15 
  • Sacramento County, California, voters may be asked to consider a half-cent sales tax that would help fund expanded bus service and light rail to the airport. The tax, which would last for 30 years, is expected to raise $3.6 billion, some of which would also go to road repairs, street expansions and new freeway interchanges.16

Funding for roads and other modes is also receiving attention.

  • Voters in San Diego may get the chance to vote on a half-cent sales tax ballot measure that would generate $18 billion over 40 years to pay for road improvements, new trolley lines and other projects.17
  • The Maine Legislature approved a measure in April that will allow voters to decide in November whether to give the state the authority to issue $100 million in bond debt. Eighty percent of the funds would go to highway and bridge projects with the other 20 percent to spend on improvements to ports and harbors, railroads, airports, transit, and bike-pedestrian paths.18
  • While a measure that would have asked Missouri voters to consider a 6-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase failed in the Missouri House this year, another measure could get a vote. The Missouri Marketers and Convenience Store Association collected enough signatures to ask voters to weigh in on a 23-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase that would generate about $95-100 million dollars annually for the state’s roads and bridges. The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office still must verify the signatures.19

Some 2016 statewide ballot measures seek to pave the way for future transportation funding enhancements. 

  • Illinois voters will consider whether to adopt a constitutional amendment that would prevent the state government from diverting revenue meant for transportation to other budget needs.20 Maryland and Wisconsin approved similar “lockbox” provisions in 2014. California, Delaware, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Tennessee also have similar restrictions.21
  • New Jersey voters will consider a constitutional amendment that would dedicate all of the revenue from the motor fuels tax to the state’s transportation trust fund. Currently, only 10.5 cents of the state’s 13.5-cents-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel is dedicated. The remaining 3 cents of the diesel tax, which generates about $25 million a year, is required by law but not under the constitution to be spent on transportation. All of the state’s 10.5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax is currently dedicated to the trust fund. The amendment would also dedicate an additional $15 million collected through petroleum products gross tax receipts. Finally, it would direct any new dollars from a future gas tax increase to the trust fund.22 
     

References:

1 Tony Cook. “Mass transit bill clears Indiana legislature, heads to governor.” Indianapolis Star. March 13, 2014.
2 Utah State Legislature. “HB 362: Transportation Infrastructure Funding.” 2015 General Session.
3 Tiffany Demasters and Ben Winslow. “Election Results: Prop. 1 passes in 10 counties; council & mayor’s race results.” Fox 13 Salt Lake City. November 4, 2015.
4 American Road & Transportation Builders Association. “2015 Ballot Initiatives Report.
5 Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE). “Transportation Ballot Measures.
6 Elliot Njus. “Portland voters approve 4-year gas tax, highest in state (election results.” The Oregonian. May 17, 2016. 
7 Associated Press. “Uber and Lyft halt service in Austin, Texas, after voters embrace background-check rules.” May 9, 2016.
8 CFTE. “Transportation Ballot Measures: Los Angeles County, CA.
9 Shandra Hill Smith. “Largest expansion in MARTA’s history will rest with voters.” Atlanta INtown. April 26, 2016.
10 CFTE. “Transportation Ballot Measures: Marion County, IN.
11 CFTE. “Transportation Ballot Measures: Seattle, WA.
12 Nicole West. “With State Transportation Funds Strained, Counties Ask Voters for Help.” KQED News. May 22, 2016.
13 Leonard Fleming. “RTA wants Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail service.” The Detroit News. May 20, 2016.
14 Ian Thibodeau. “Tax proposed for Detroit-to-Ann Arbor rail and other regional transit plans,” M Live. May 31, 2016. 
15 Brian Ballou. “Broward commissioners move forward with one-cent transportation sales tax.” The Sun Sentinel. April 20, 2016. 
16 Tony Bizjak. “Sacramento unveils $3.6 billion transportation project to-do list.” The Sacramento Bee. March 27, 2016.
17 Joshua Stewart. “Transportation sales tax hike to go on ballot.” The San Diego Union Tribune. April 29, 2016.
18 AASHTO Journal. “Maine Legislature Backs November Ballot Measure for $100M in Project Bond Debt.” April 22, 2016.
19 Alisa Nelson. “One Missouri road funding effort dies, another could be on ballot.” Missourinet. May 24, 2016.
20 AASHTO Journal. “Illinois Voters to Decide on ‘Lockbox’ to Protect Transportation Funds in Budget.” May 13, 2016.
21 Bill Kramer. “Can States Protect Transportation Funds with a ‘Lockbox?” Multistate Insider. January 6, 2016.
22 Samantha Marcus. “N.J. voters to decide it all gas tax dollars go to road projects.” NJ.com. January 11, 2016.