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Editor’s Note

Tom and Renae have been on their mission for nearly 18 months and report to me that they are loving Chile. I am on my way to the AASHTO annual meeting in Charlotte and hope to see many of you. We have a booth (304) in the vendor area and would love to catch up with you during the conference.

Wisconsin Voters Protect Transportation Funds

Land Line Magazine – November 7, 2014

Voters in Wisconsin have chosen to halt the raids on transportation money in the state. On election day, 80 percent of Wisconsin voters supported a question on the statewide ballot for the state constitutional amendment to shield road, bridge and transit money from raids.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports that an estimated $1.2 billion was pulled from the state transportation fund over a 10-year period. The transportation account is now expected to be short $6 billion over the next decade just to cover maintenance work.

Voters’ passage of Question 1 means that all fuel tax revenue and vehicle fee revenue is required to go to the state’s transportation system. Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, said the amendment is a guarantee to taxpayers that from now on, transportation revenue will only be used as intended.

“One way or another, we are going to have to find ways to make sure our roads and other transportation systems are safe and efficient,” Petrowski said in a previous news release. “This amendment provides a secure starting point for that discussion.

Many states enjoy the constitutional protection Wisconsin DOT achieved today. I wish we could say the amendment would solve all funding woes, but I suspect it only addresses part of the growing needs. Congratulations, none-the-less!

Massachusetts Voters Rescind ‘Forever Tax’

Land Line Magazine – November 7, 2014

Massachusetts voters decided to overturn a state law authorizing automatic fuel tax indexing. The indexing was part of a new transportation funding package passed by state lawmakers that also tied the state’s fuel tax rate to inflation, which results in regular increases. One year ago, the state’s fuel tax rate increased by 3 cents from 21 cents to 24 cents as part of the automatic increases.

On election day, 52 percent of voters chose to cancel the provision that authorizes the automatic increases.

A group of Republican legislators campaigned to get the question on the ballot. They dubbed the 2013 law allowing the regular increase as “forever tax” because the tax rate can rise without legislative action. The group named “Tank the Gas Tax,” collected 100,000 signatures in order to get the issue on the fall ballot.

Critics of Question 1 say its passage will result in the loss of $1 billion in revenue and the ability to borrow more for transportation needs. They say that future road and bridge work could be delayed if the Legislature fails to approve additional fuel tax hikes.

Republican Gov.-elect Charlie Baker supported the ballot question to overturn the automatic fuel tax increase. The remaining portion of the Democrat-led transportation funding package, which the fuel tax increase had been part of, includes a $1 excise tax on cigarettes and adding the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax on computer software services. That revenue will be applied to transportation work. Additionally, a 2.5-cent portion of the fuel tax applied to underground storage tank cleanups will be rerouted to transportation. As originally approved in the 2013 legislative session, the funding plan would have raised an estimated $800 million in taxes annually by 2018. Transportation officials say another $1 billion per year is needed to maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure.

While disappointing to transportation advocates in Mass., this is somewhat predictable. While the need for periodic increases is obvious to anyone who understands inflation, I don’t believe automatic penny per gallon increases will be safe from similar attacks elsewhere in our country. Consider however, if fuel tax is a percentage rather than pennies per gallon, inflationary increases would be automatic with increases in the cost of fuel. Virginia led the charge in this direction, and I predict others will follow.

Wisconsin Proposed Budget Request Sparks Debate

Madison Daily Cardinal – November 17, 2014

The just-released budget request by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for 2015-’17 has sparked a significant debate, especially pertaining to a new $50 fee for registering hybrid and electric cars.

The fee is intended to tax drivers for highway and roads services usually covered by paying gasoline taxes, which do not reach the drivers of “green” vehicles, according to Keven Traas, director of transportation policy and finance for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association.

Some experts are criticizing the tax as a taking away the incentives for the purchase of environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Good luck WISDOT, this will be an uphill battle. While we are all for environmentally friendly transportation, should hybrids and electric vehicles be able to use the roads and bridges for free?

Election Update 2014: Voters Weigh in on Transportation Issues; Land Line Magazine, – November 6, 2014

Earlier this month, voters in states around the country had their say on various transportation-related initiatives. Here are some annual averages from the past few years, followed by a portion of the measures on the ballots this year.

    2014 Results YTD

    18 States
    59 Measures
    Win: 42
    Loss: 17
    Success Rate: 71%

    2013 Results

    8 States
    15 Measures
    Win: 11
    Loss: 4
    Success Rate: 73%

    2012 Results

    17 States

    62 Measures

    Win: 49

    Loss: 13

    Success Rate: 79%

Statewide voters in Louisiana rejected an amendment to the state’s constitution to allow for the investment of public funds into a yet-to-be-created transportation infrastructure bank. In addition, it would have set up a revolving loan program for municipalities to borrow for road improvements.

Maryland voters said yes to amend the state constitution to create a “lockbox” to secure revenue from fuel taxes, vehicles sales tax and registration fees, and transit fees for transportation purposes.

In a loss for transportation funding, Massachusetts voters approved a reversal of a state law that ties the state’s fuel tax rate to inflation, which allows for regular increases.

Oregon voters approved statewide Measure 88, to overturn a 2013 state law to make four-year personal driver licenses available to residents unable to prove they are in the country legally.

Rhode Island voters approved the statewide Question 6 regarding whether to authorize borrowing $35 million to move forward with a variety of upgrades that include repairs to the Providence train station, expanding bus service on popular routes and better links between the city’s airport and train station.

Texas voters approved a statewide Proposition 1 that authorizes rerouting half of the state’s oil and gas severance tax revenue from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the state highway fund. It is estimated to amount to $1.4 billion in the first year.

Wisconsin passed a statewide question of whether to require all fuel tax and vehicle fee revenue to be used only for the state’s transportation system.

In California’s Oakland and Alameda Counties, a half-cent sales tax hike passed the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass in Alameda County, funding nearly $8 billion in transportation projects with most going toward transit, biking, and walking.

Voters in Fairfax County, Virginia, widely approved a transportation bond package full of good stuff. According to Network blog Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling:

The $100 million bond includes $77.5 million in pedestrian projects, $6.5 million in bike projects, and $16 million in spot road projects. The vote shows that Fairfax residents want safe walk and bike routes and are willing to pay for them.

This continues to be an amazing success rate (71%), which tells me Americans are generally okay with paying for transportation, upon the condition that they know what they are going to get for their investment.