Governors, Legislators Propose Transportation Funding Initiatives

There has been plenty of action in state capitals on transportation funding initiatives since last I blogged on the subject, much of it detailed in our CSG “States to Watch” webinar earlier this week. Here’s a guide to some additional reading on what’s going on in some of those states.

  • Indiana: The Evansville Courier & Press reported on last week’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing during which three transportation funding proposals were debated. The committee is expected to take more time on the measures and consider amendments so votes were not taken. I spoke recently with Rep. Ed Soliday, the Valparaiso Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, about the proposals likely to be considered this year. “We’re going to look at our gasoline sales tax,” he told me. “None of it is dedicated to infrastructure. So we may try to recapture some of that. We use some of our state gas tax for our Bureau of Motor Vehicles and our state police. We’re going to take a look at whether that’s wise and should we pull it back in for infrastructure. I have a bill myself to mandate a (vehicle miles traveled) study … We have a number of large vehicle operators that are converting to methane-based products, either natural gas or SNG or something like that. They should pay their fair share. So we’re creating a tax structure that they will pay their fair share for those conversions. So, that’s not raising a tax. That’s taking a tax that was there and making sure it transfers with the conversion to a different fuel source. In that bill, we’ll probably deal with all alternative fuel vehicles, all electric. I don’t think we’ll mess with hybrids. But we’re trying to look to the future as many states are. With the (Obama) administration agreeing to a 55.5 mile (fuel efficiency standard) in 2025, which is right around the corner, what’s the net impact on the fuel tax and then what’s the right way to fund infrastructure? So we have about five bills out there that deal with various ways and right now the thinking is no (single) one of them is the silver bullet but we’re going to work through it.” Soliday added: “There is no free lunch. I’ve been in transportation for 40-plus years and I can tell you that clear back to Marco Polo, business and citizens think that transportation ought to be free. And I can tell you that sooner or later somebody has to pay.” Look for more comments from Soliday in the March-April issue of Capitol Ideas magazine, which will include my article on the legacy of the 2006 lease of the Indiana Toll Road. As I’ve noted before, the fact that the money from that lease deal is now mostly spent is the reason Indiana finds itself searching for additional transportation revenues now.
  • Maryland: The Washington Post reported this week that design work on some key local transit projects could be in jeopardy unless the General Assembly approves a state transportation tax increase and some local officials are placing the blame at the door of Gov. Martin O’Malley for not introducing legislation this year to restore the state’s depleted transportation fund. A plan offered last year by O’Malley to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gas failed to gain legislative support. As we discussed on this week’s webinar, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has been the most active this year in proposing transportation funding options, including a 3 percent sales tax on gas and a local-option gas tax increase. But Miller acknowledged this week his transportation plan is unlikely to go anywhere without O’Malley’s support, The Post reported.
  • Michigan: In his 2013-14 budget, Gov. Rick Snyder this week proposed a 14-cent increase in the state’s 19-cent-a-gallon gas tax (not raised since 1997) and an increase in vehicle registration fees to finance a $1.28 billion increase in roads funding. Michiganders would pay an additional $120 per vehicle annually as a result of the increases, The (Port Huron, MI) Times Herald reported.
  • Minnesota: Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a 0.25 percent sales tax in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area to expand light rail, add bus rapid transit lines, and make up transit operating deficits, the non-profit news organization MinnPost reports.
  • Mississippi: The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Joey Fillingane, has proposed legislation (SB2144) that would direct some of the tax money that is supposed to be collected on small casino winnings to road and bridge building and maintenance. It’s estimated the state is failing to collect about $500 million a year from small time gamblers who fail to report their winnings as required by law, The (Jackson) Clarion Ledger reported.
  • Ohio: Gov. John Kasich may have decided not to lease the Ohio Turnpike to a private company but that doesn’t mean the state isn’t pursuing public-private partnerships on other projects. This week the Ohio Department of Transportation announced the three finalists for a $300 million contract to design, construct and finance the second eastbound I-90 Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland and demolish the old one, The Journal of Commerce reported.
  • Pennsylvania: As reported on Tuesday’s webinar, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced his long-awaited plan to provide additional funding for the commonwealth’s transportation system during his statewide budget address this week. The governor’s plan includes uncapping the ceiling on the Oil Company Franchise Tax levied on the wholesale price of gasoline to bring in $1.8 billion over the next five years in order to complete a number of transportation projects that currently lack funding. You can read more about the governor’s plan on the PennDOT website. Jon Schmitz of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this week about how much Corbett’s plan might end up costing consumers. Phil Ray of The Altoona Mirror writes that PennDOT officials are predicting the new transportation funding will create 50,000 new jobs.
  • South Carolina: As mentioned on Tuesday’s webinar, Tim Smith of The Greenville News wrote recently about how state lawmakers are keeping an eye on Virginia as they seek transportation funding options that don’t involve increasing the gas tax, which Gov. Nikki Haley has said she would veto.
  • Texas: Aman Batheja of The Texas Tribune reports on this week’s Senate Finance Committee hearing (mentioned in this week’s webinar) during which Texas Department of Transportation officials said the state will run out of capacity to issue debt for transportation projects by 2015. TxDOT Chairman Phil Wilson told the panel his agency needs as least $4 billion a year in additional funding, including $3 billion to expand the transportation network and $1 billion to keep up with maintenance needs.
  • Virginia: Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw said this week that although the Senate rejected Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding plan, a compromise is likely that will result in passage of a bill this session. But Saslaw said it likely won’t include McDonnell’s controversial proposed repeal of the state’s gas tax, WTOP reported.   
  • Wyoming: House Bill 69, which would raise the state fuel tax by 10 cents to generate about $71.8 million in additional revenue, is headed for the Senate floor after winning support in a Senate committee, The (Casper) Star-Tribune reported. The measure previously passed the House. The Wyoming Business Report took a look this week at who in the state is supporting the measure.

Other Resources of Interest

  • The Building America’s Future Educational Fund website is keeping a running list of infrastructure mentions in governors’ State of the State speeches this year.
  • Dan Vock of Stateline (just one of the great guests on our webinar this week) and David Goldberg of Transportation for America both had pieces recently on how rethinking the gas tax has suddenly become the theme of 2013 in transportation funding.
  • Curtis Tate and Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers had an article last weekend about how many states are spending too much on building new highways and too little to repair existing ones.
  • And the Texas A&M Transportation Institute this week issued its Annual Urban Mobility Report. This year it includes a new measure of the unpredictability caused by increasing congestion, the Planning Time Index, which illustrates the amount of extra time needed to arrive on time for important events. As usual, the report ranks the nation’s most congested cities as well (Washington, D.C. is number one). For a different perspective, Tanya Snyder of DC Streetsblog writes that TTI’s analysis isn’t as useful as it should be and in a separate post quotes former New Jersey Department of Transportation official Gary Toth, who argues building more roads is not the answer to resolving the congestion conundrum.