Debt Financing

It has been a busy year for states considering transportation revenue options. Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming all approved significant transportation investment packages this year. Several more set in motion plans that could come to fruition next year. But a variety of factors could mean we’ll see even more activity on the transportation revenue front in state capitals in 2014. There are states with unfinished business from 2013, states with recommended actions on the table that could ripen into legislation, states where diverse coalitions are pushing investment and even states that have had recent transportation funding success but that are still seeking more sustainable solutions for the future. Success for those states in 2014 is far from assured, especially given the number of governors and legislators up for re-election. But factors like continuing uncertainty at the federal level, infrastructure needs coming into sharp focus and the realization that fixing the infrastructure in the near term will be far less expensive than putting it off for another day could mean another busy year for state transportation funding efforts. Here’s my annual rundown of states to keep an eye on next year.  

Transportation was on the ballot around the country in a variety of ways last week—both directly and indirectly. While most of the action was not at the state level, there were a number of mayoral contests, bond measures and local tax increases that could have a significant impact in communities across the nation. Here’s a roundup of what happened and what it all might mean.

Day two of the CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, DC included a transportation policy roundtable featuring a variety of transportation stakeholders and experts. The final panel of the morning featured: Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, former U.S. Department of Transportation official during the Bush Administration and veteran of previous CSG Transportation Policy Academies; Sarah Kline, Research Director for the DC-based advocacy coalition Transportation for America, former Senate staffer and D.C.-area transit official; and Paul Feenstra, Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America). They discussed the prospects for MAP-21 reauthorization, how local communities are energized to invest in transportation options, how technology solutions can help communities get the most out of existing infrastructure, the shortcomings of transportation project planning processes and how MAP-21’s focus on performance measurement may help improve them.

There are a number of recent news items suggesting several states could follow in the footsteps of Virginia as they seek ways to fund their infrastructure needs going forward. Some in Congress also appear to be taking a hard look at the Virginia plan, which included eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax in favor of new wholesale taxes on gasoline and diesel and an increase in the general sales tax. I also have updates on some other states looking at transportation funding issues and a preview of our upcoming Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, DC, where many of these issues will likely be part of the conversation.

Members of West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways were hard at work this week starting to finalize a list of suggestions for how the state might raise funding for road projects. The suggestions will likely form the basis for legislation to be put forward by the governor and considered by lawmakers during the 2014 session. The commission could recommend taking a page out of the playbooks of Ohio and Pennsylvania to use prospective future toll revenues on the West Virginia Turnpike to borrow on behalf of other non-toll roads in the state. New or adjusted fees could also be on the way. But new taxes likely won’t be on the table.

State transportation funding was another focus at July’s CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Portland, Oregon.  Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-WA) was among the speakers at the academy’s concluding roundtable discussion on July 20. Clibborn is the Chair of the Transportation Committee in the Washington House of Representatives and the co-chair of CSG’s Transportation Public Policy Committee.  She spoke about Washington state’s pursuit of transportation revenues over the last decade and this year’s failure of a transportation funding package, which would have helped pay for a long-in-the-works bridge project.

The importance of infrastructure to economic development was the focus of remarks by Charlie Howard at the CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Portland, Oregon on July20th. Howard is Director of Integrated Planning at the Puget Sound Regional Council, a Metropolitan Planning Organization and Regional Transportation Planning Organization that helps to develop policies in regional growth management, transportation and economic development in the Seattle area. He told policy academy attendees how the Seattle region’s burgeoning population is informing what his agency does.

The CSG Transportation Policy Academy got underway July 18th with a tour of the Port of Portland, a diversified facility that is critical to the state’s economy. Attendees heard from the port’s Community Affairs Tour and Outreach Manager Brooke Berglund and State Government Relations Manager Annette Price about the port’s imprint and about how it has benefitted from a state grant and loan program called Connect Oregon that has helped fund key upgrades to aviation, marine and rail infrastructure.

Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Commissioner Charles Zelle has long been thinking about his state’s transportation future and is now the man in charge of making the case for additional investment to the public and policymakers. The longtime bus company executive, who was appointed commissioner by Gov. Mark Dayton last year and began work in January, is a veteran of two panels that in recent years sought to lay out a long-term transportation vision for the state (the most recent panel’s work is detailed in my recent Capitol Research brief “Transportation Funding Commissions II.”) Zelle spoke about those experiences, his new mission and the state’s transportation challenges during a public policy roundtable July 15th at the CSG Midwest Annual Conference in St. Paul. He also responded to questions from Midwestern state legislators who took part in the discussion.

Lawmakers in Olympia adjourned for the year Saturday as the Washington state Senate failed to take up a $10 billion transportation package. Meanwhile in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lawmakers couldn’t complete work on a $2 billion transportation bill in advance of a budget deadline and the start of their annual summer break. Here’s a look at what happened in both states and what the future may hold.