Administration and Finance

To ensure America remains competitive in the global market and has a vibrant economic future, we must invest in our nation’s infrastructure now. That’s the message leading voices from government, business and academia will bring to Washington, D.C., and events across the nation during national Infrastructure Week, May 11-15. Set against the backdrop of the Highway Trust Fund’s looming insolvency and the expiration of the federal transportation law known as MAP-21 at the end of May, the theme of this year’s Infrastructure Week—Investing in America's Economy—highlights policies and investments needed to revitalize the country’s infrastructure, rebuild the economy and create a competitive business environment.

Unless you’re stuck in traffic, without water because of a water main break, hitting a pothole or your power goes out, you probably don’t think all that much about infrastructure. As civil engineers, that’s how we want it. Our goal is for infrastructure to fit seamlessly into your life and enable you to get where you want to go, turn on the lights and brush your teeth. We maintain a network of more than 600,000 bridges across the nation, 50,000 miles of transmission lines and more. However, the current state of our infrastructure is making that seamless maintenance more challenging.

Michigan voters Tuesday declined to support a ballot measure that would have hiked the state’s general sales tax, fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to provide funding for dilapidated roads but removed the sales tax on fuel, which currently goes to other purposes. I also have a report from last week’s International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike conference on transportation finance and road usage charging in Portland, Oregon. I’ll bring you up to speed about CSG’s involvement in next week’s Infrastructure Week activities and look ahead to a conference next month highlighting public-private partnerships.

As states ponder the future of transportation funding, tolling is playing an increasingly significant role. Tolls are helping states close funding gaps, support capital investment and improve mobility. Developments at the federal and state levels make the trend toward increased tolling likely to continue. But some states have seen pushback against the proliferation of tolls and Texas in particular could face a rocky road ahead as that state tries to deal with increased congestion due to population growth.

In an ironic twist, state transportation leaders say if you want to help shore up your state’s transportation funding, you’re going to have to hit the road. “You’ve got to take it on the road,” said state Sen. Mike Vehle, chair of South Dakota’s Senate Transportation Committee and co-chair of CSG’s Transportation Public Policy Committee. He was one of the featured speakers on a recent CSG eCademy, “Status of Federal Transportation Programs, State Impacts & Activities.”

The latest extension of a 2012 federal transportation bill is set to expire May 31 and with its expiration, the Highway Trust Fund is expected to run out of money. With this looming deadline, many wonder if a long-term bill to reauthorize and fund transportation programs is in the cards, and whether Congress will have a plan to pay for it. During this FREE eCademy webcast, experts provide an update on where things stand in Washington with just over a month to go before the deadline. State officials offer their perspectives on the toll the uncertainty has taken on some state transportation projects and how two states were able to approve transportation funding measures in recent years.

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.

Iowa and Georgia are two of five states where the legislature has approved a major transportation funding package so far this year. Others still could follow suit as the year progresses, but already the number rivals 2013, when six states approved significant funding measures. Idaho became the most recent state to join the club when its legislature approved a transportation funding compromise with a 7 cents per gallon gas tax increase just before adjourning for the year on April 11. South Dakota and Utah also raised their gas taxes this year.

This summer the Oregon Department of Transportation begins a program under which 5,000 volunteer drivers will pay a mileage-based road usage charge. It’s just the latest step for Oregon, which has been a pioneer of mileage-based fees over the last decade. But Oregon is far from alone in testing and exploring such fees. Other states have conducted tests of their own, adopted mileage-based user fee-related legislation and participated in multi-state coalitions to explore the concept.

February and March were busy months for state legislatures on the transportation front with four states approving major funding packages, several considering measures to revise gas tax indexing mechanisms to avoid losing transportation revenues in the wake of declining gas prices, and a whole host of other states continuing to contemplate or negotiate additional legislation that could bear fruit down the road. Here’s a roundup of the developments since my previous post on this topic.

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