State Transportation Budgets, Revenue and Policy Measures Seek to Address Needs

It’s been a busy few weeks since we last checked in on state transportation funding activities. Here are some updates on what half-a-dozen states have been up to.

Georgia – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today that Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget plan, now passed by both chambers of the legislature, will help advance the largest transportation project in state history and put in motion a program to build additional road capacity through toll lanes. Under the approved budget, $300 million of revenues from state gas taxes would be put toward a nearly $1 billion toll lane project along Interstates 75 and 575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. But lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a plan to meld a metro Atlanta mass transit system out of a patchwork of local agencies. What is unclear is the potential implications of these developments for the transportation referendum to be held this summer in the state (see my article in the latest issue of Capitol Ideas).

Iowa – Higher-than-expected state and federal funding for the state’s highway construction program and lower-than-expected contractor payments for competitively awarded road projects may allow Iowa to see one of its biggest years ever for road construction work, The Des Moines Register reported. That may strengthen the hand of some legislators and Gov. Terry Branstad, who have so far balked at the idea of a gas tax increase proposed last year by a citizen advisory commission.  

Maryland – Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed and the House of Delegates has passed legislation that would allow the state to seek out private partners to build, operate and maintain roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and most any other public asset. Under current law, only the state’s transportation department has the authority to pursue public-private partnerships (known as P3s). The bill also seeks to clarify the definition of a P3 and creates a process for the state to receive and review unsolicited project proposals from the private sector. The Associated Press and The Washington Post have more.

Massachusetts – The state House of Representatives last week passed a portion of Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed $1.5 billion transportation bond bill. The legislation includes $200 million for road and bridge repairs but not Patrick’s proposed state infrastructure bank, which he has sought to leverage private investments and invest $885 million in transportation programs and $311 million in rail and transit systems. The legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation will continue to look at those pieces of the governor’s transportation bill, the Boston Herald reported.

Michigan – The state Senate last week passed a bill to take part of the state’s 4 percent sales tax which now goes into the General Fund and earmark it for roads, with hopes it could help Michigan land more federal matching funds. As reported on the Michigan Live website, the change would shift about $135 million towards roads. Gov. Rick Snyder has said it will take about $1.4 billion to maintain roads and more for new projects. Snyder has called on lawmakers to look at a variety of revenue raising measures.  

Washington – Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the state’s transportation budget last month, which includes $800 million in new spending. The state will tap new and increased fees on drivers and vehicle dealers, including an 80 percent increase in the cost of a driver’s license and a $100 annual fee on electric cars. The new fees will raise $20 million in the next three years with much of the money designated for the state ferry system, The Olympian reported. While congratulating the Legislature for “doing what they could do this year,” Gregoire warned that the state will one day soon have to come up with the $3.6 billion increase in transportation funding she says is needed over the next decade.