The Ballot Box and Transportation
Updated: Oct 10, 2018
November 6th will be here before you know it and with it comes the potential for significant changes in the majority in Congress. But as Tip O'Neill was fond of saying "all politics is local" so let's not overlook some important transportation issues that will be on the ballot in four states - California, Missouri, Colorado and Utah.
The one that seems to be getting the greatest attention is California's Proposition 6 that seeks to overturn SB1 that included a 12 cent gas tax increase and was approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor last year. SB1 is projected to raise $54 billion in revenue for 6,500 transportation projects over the next decade. And as anyone who has driven on the state's roads or crossed one of its more than 25,000 structurally deficient bridges knows, the state's transportation network is in dire need of better maintenance and upgrades. A lack of revenue in recent years has resulted in a tremendous backlog of projects and has contributed to ever increasing traffic congestion. According to TRIP, a national transportation research organization, driving on roads in need of repair costs California drivers $61 billion each year.
In the Show Me State voters will be deciding the fate of a 10 cent gas increase that was approved by legislators earlier this year. If approved by voters, this will be the first such increase since the 1990s and will help to fill an $825 million need just for high priority transportation projects. The overall need is even higher. Like many states, Missouri struggled for several years to raise the necessary revenues to address the state's growing transportation challenges. According to TRIP, congested roads cost the state's drivers $2.4 billion each year in wasted fuel and lost time.
Voters in Colorado are facing the choice between a larger transportation funding package ($20 billion) that includes a 0.62% sales tax increase, a smaller package ($3.5 billion) with no tax increase or no package at all. Colorado's lawmakers have been limited in their ability to raise revenue to address the state's growing transportation's needs as the state's Tax Payers Bill of Rights (TABOR) requires that any tax increase be approved by voters. Over the years the legislature has struggled to allocate the necessary dollars to meet the huge funding needs as the state's population has grown 29% over the past few years. The state's gas tax has not seen an increase since 1991 and lawmakers have resorted to bond packages instead. Earlier this year, the legislature transferred $645 million from the general fund to transportation. So if voters approved one of the bond packages on November 6, this would be additional funding going towards the state's roads, bridges and transit systems.
In a bit of a different twist, Utah voters are being asked to approve a 10 cent gas tax increase but the catch is that 70% of the revenue would go towards schools and the remainder to local roads. If approved, this would been addition to the 4.5 cent increase approved by the legislature 2015 - all of which went towards transportation. This initiative is unusual in that more states have moved in the direction of safeguarding transportation revenues by erecting 'lockboxes' so that any funding increases are not diverted to other budgetary priorities.
In a volatile political year it's anyone's guess as to what the voters will decide so fasten your seat belts - it's going to be a wild ride the next few weeks.