Next week (May 18-20), The Council of State Governments will host a group of 10 state legislators from around the country at the 6th Annual CSG Transportation Leaders Policy Academy in Washington, D.C. As part of the academy, attendees will take part in activities around Infrastructure Week, a national week of events, media coverage, and education and advocacy efforts to elevate infrastructure as a critical issue. I have more about the academy and Infrastructure Week below as well as details about another key event CSG is involved with happening next month.

During a recent CSG eCademy webcast, “States to Watch in 2016: Transportation Funding,” transportation policy experts made some predictions about upcoming transportation funding issues, and possible solutions, in the states. Joe McAndrew, policy director at Transportation for America, said 23 states have approved plans to raise transportation revenue since 2012. In 2015, eight states passed gas tax increases while other states considered tolling changes and other revenue options. But, according to McAndrew and other presenters, 2016 could be a slow year for major transportation funding initiatives.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo last week signed legislation to fund a multi-year bridge repair program with a new toll on large commercial trucks and a combination of borrowing and refinancing. Rhode Island, which ranks 50th out of 50 states in overall bridge conditions, has been one of the only northeast states that does not charge  commercial trucks a user fee. There is also a variety of other tolling-related news from around the country as well as updates on the states to watch on transportation funding this year. Plus details on how you can join us for next week’s CSG eCademy webinar on the subject.

The New York Times says that the oil industry is in its “deepest downturn since the 1990s, if not earlier”. The price of a barrel of oil has plummeted, falling more 70 percent since mid-2014, and gas prices at the pump have followed – falling from $2.21 one year ago to $1.70 today (AAA). Unfortunately, a drop in energy prices means a headache for several states that rely heavily on severance taxes for revenue.

A majority of states (35) impose at least one form of severance tax, which is a tax on natural resource extraction. While overall severance taxes don’t make up a large percentage of total state taxes collected – 2.1 percent in 2014 – they have very different impacts across the states. For example, in 2014 severance taxes collected ranged from 72 percent of total tax revenue in Alaska and 54 percent of revenue in North Dakota to less than 1 percent in 18 states. In seven states, severance taxes make up 10 percent or more of total tax collections. 

CSG Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Policy Sean Slone outlines the top five issues in transportation policy for 2016, including federal funding uncertainty and underinvestment in infrastructure, transportation revenue options, tolling and public-private partnerships, and public transit challenges.  

With the passage of the FAST Act by Congress in late 2015, states have some of the long-term certainty they have long sought in the federal transportation program. But can a mostly status quo, five-year transportation bill help states make up for years of inadequate investment in the nation's infrastructure. More than likely, more than a few will still feel compelled to follow in the footsteps of eight states that raised gas taxes in 2015. Some may also turn to tolling and public-private partnerships to help fund projects, although those tools in the toolbox have seen increasing scrutiny and criticism in some parts of the country. State officials face a variety of other challenges as well including how to plan for the technological and demographic changes that could radically alter the transportation landscape in the years ahead and how to deploy and enhance the kinds of transportation options that will make communities into livable, sustainable, economically vital places. Here are my top five transportation issues for 2016 along with more than 500 links to resources from CSG and a variety of other sources where you can read more.

Facing continuing uncertainty with regards to federal funding, Tennessee and other states have postponed millions of dollars in transportation projects. But even as a gas tax increase has become a political third rail in Washington, many states have turned to the venerable transportation revenue mechanism this year to advance their transportation programs. This session highlighted both the impact of federal uncertainty and the successes of those states that passed gas tax increases in 2015.

With just hours to spare before the Midnight expiration of road and transit spending, President Obama Friday signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year, $305 billion bill paid for with a combination of existing gas tax revenue and $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget. It calls for spending about $225 billion on highways and $61 billion on transit projects over the next five years. The legislation is the first transportation funding bill lasting longer than two years that Congress has passed since 2005 and delivers some degree of long-term certainty to state transportation officials around the country who have struggled to keep transportation investment afloat through years of mostly short-term extensions. Despite delivering that certainty and a variety of important policy tweaks, there is still plenty to be concerned about for the future of the federal transportation program and the discussion about the next bill has already begun.

On December 3, I had the opportunity to address the Maine Transportation Conference in Augusta, an annual event sponsored by the Maine Better Transportation Association, the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Maine Department of Transportation. I spoke about state transportation funding activities in 2015. Here’s an edited version of my remarks.

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