An Inclusive Process Also Key to Transportation Funding Successes in Georgia, Iowa

In this week’s issue of The Current State, CSG’s weekly e-newsletter, I write about the factors that allowed Georgia and Iowa to be successful this year in passing legislation to fund transportation. Georgia and Iowa are two of the five states that have passed major funding measures so far this year. Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tod Bowman and Georgia House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts told me that gubernatorial leadership, uncertainty about what’s going to happen at the federal level and the lessons of past failures all played a role in their 2015 success. In this unused portion of my interviews with the lawmakers, they also suggest an inclusive process helped pave the way to success. I also have items on Georgia’s new electric vehicle fees and South Dakota’s road to success as well as a look at some key meetings coming up this Spring.

Inclusive Processes Yield Results

Bowman believes another key to Iowa’s success this year was the decision to use a consensus process to reach agreement on the funding solution.

“We’ve got a lot of different people with different ideas,” he said. “To kind of keep the bill with unanimous support in the different groups that I had to appease was the big thing. … If we couldn’t get agreement on one thing, we just took it off. We didn’t have the ‘well if I don’t get this then I’m not on board’-type mentality. It was like ‘what can we all agree to.’”

That may have led Iowa to ultimately approve a solution—a more or less straight-up 10-cent gas tax increase—that seems a lot less complex than what some other states are doing.

“I would say everything under the sun was considered,” Bowman said. “The question was ‘was it politically viable?’ That’s what cut off a lot of the things on this list of things that we could maybe potentially put into a bill. Do we have enough support in all four caucuses and the governor’s office to consider this concept? Indexing (the gas tax), for example, was considered. And multiple different ways of indexing were considered. We looked at other tools that would bring in revenue besides the fuel tax to complement (it and take) more of a comprehensive approach and we kind of shied away from anything that would be too toxic.”

Bowman said one idea that had some support was adding 1 percent to the current 5 percent tax on new vehicle sales.

“If you buy a vehicle (in Iowa), you’re taxed at 5 percent,” he said. “The rest of the state sales tax on other products is 6 percent. They thought we should add that 1 percent to make it consistent. It would generate millions of dollars but at the end of the day that didn’t make the bill.”

For Roberts in Georgia, it was an inclusive process that ultimately yielded success. He led a study committee last year that held eight meetings around the state to lay out the scope of Georgia’s transportation needs and to give a variety of interests the opportunity to weigh in. That level of inclusion continued during the 2015 legislative session, Roberts said.

“I had an open door policy the whole time,” he said. “I allowed in anybody that wanted to come in and have the conversation … and I tried to make sure that we educated everybody from the beginning and we kept our caucus abreast of what was going on. … I worked closely with the other side of the aisle as well. … Transportation is not a partisan issue. It affects Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, everybody the same.”

When it came down to voting on the gas tax increase in Iowa, Bowman watched some of his colleagues try to justify their “No” votes on the measure.

“That was kind of an interesting process to watch how people could escape what they thought was responsibility for funding this issue or voting for this issue by saying ‘well, if (the bill) did this, then I’d be in support of it,’ knowing there was no way it was going to do that,” he said.

Electric Vehicle Fees in Georgia

One aspect of Georgia’s transportation funding legislation that has received some attention involves something of a change of mindset for the state.  Lawmakers repealed a $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles and instituted annual fees of $200 and $300 for personal and commercial electric vehicles respectively.

“When you started looking at it, $5000 from the state, $7500 from the federal, you can go in … and lease one for two years for about $30 a month,” Roberts said. “That’s a little ridiculous in my opinion. And the fact that down the road you’re going to see more people who are operating the electric vehicles, which we don’t want to necessarily discourage but we also want to make sure that they pay their fair share (for using the roads). Our tax credit almost was set up where there was only one model of vehicle that actually complied. This year there probably would have been another one but that would have gone from costing us about $45 million a year to probably close to $65 to $70 million a year.”

South Dakota’s Road to Success

Another state that saw success this year was South Dakota, where lawmakers approved increases in the motor fuel tax, motor vehicle excise tax, motor vehicle registration fees and wheel taxes. Tuesday on our CSG eCademy Webcast “Status of Federal Transportation Programs, State Impacts and Activities,” South Dakota Senate Transportation Committee Chairman (and CSG Transportation Public Policy Committee Co-Chair) Mike Vehle said the factors in his state’s success this year included a bipartisan roads and funding task force (I spoke to Sen. Vehle’s committee last August and you can read my written testimony here). Vehle also cited the support of Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the South Dakota Department of Transportation along with an alliance of interest groups called the “Roads are Vital” Coalition. The funding success also involved a lot of legwork. Vehle said he took his message on the road to every Rotary Club, Lions Club and Chamber of Commerce that would have him.

InfraAmericas U.S. P3 Infrastructure Forum 2015

CSG is proud to serve once again this year as a supporting organization for the InfraAmericas U.S. P3 Conference, a gathering of infrastructure developers, investors, financiers, state and federal public officials and regional transportation authorities on the subject of public-private partnerships. This year’s event will take place June 9-10 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Speakers with a state government connection will include Douglas Koelemay, who heads Virginia’s Office of P3s, former Indiana Public Finance Director Kendra York, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Office of P3s Director Bryan Kendro, North Carolina DOT CFO David Tyeryar, Colorado High Performance Transportation Enterprise Director Michael Cheroutes, Ohio DOT’s Deputy Director of Innovative Delivery Adam Sheets and Massachusetts Assistant Secretary of Transportation and CFO Dana Levenson. You can register to attend here. For an idea of what to expect, you can read my coverage of last year’s event here.  

Transportation Finance & Road Usage Charging Focus of Portland Conference

This weekend I head to Portland, Oregon for a conference on transportation finance and road usage charging hosted by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. Speakers will discuss how Oregon and other states are exploring the concept of mileage-based road usage charges. And, in case you missed it, you can get a sense of the breadth of those state activities in my latest Capitol Facts & Figures brief, which you’ll find here. Look for my coverage of the Portland conference on the blog in the weeks ahead.

Legislators to Take Part in CSG Transportation Policy Academy, Infrastructure Week Activities

A select group of state legislators from around the country who chair or serve on transportation committees is set to attend the next CSG Transportation Policy Academy, May 11-13 in Washington, DC. The group will have the opportunity to tour transportation projects in the DC region, meet with members of Congress and take part in briefings with a variety of transportation stakeholders and experts representing such organizations as the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Maryland Department of Transportation, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UPS, the Eno Center for Transportation, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the American Public Transportation Association and the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance. The policy academy attendees will also take part in activities associated with Infrastructure Week, a national week of high-profile events, media coverage, focused advocacy and other efforts around the country to build momentum for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. CSG is proud to serve as an Infrastructure Week affiliate. Look for more about the policy academy and Infrastructure Week here on the blog in the coming weeks as well. The policy academy is made possible through the support of ASCE, Nissan and UPS. Here’s a look at our most recent transportation policy academy last September.