Voters Decide Fate of Transportation Funding Measures on State Ballots
Voters demonstrated a reluctance to approve new funding measures but a commitment to securing existing funds for transportation purposes during the Nov. 6 election.
RELATED: Transportation funding questions to appear on state midterm ballots
In Colorado, both transportation measures listed on the ballot failed. Proposition 109, called Fix Our Damn Roads, would have authorized up to $3.5 billion in bonds for statewide transportation projects. The interest on the bonds was to be paid out of the state’s general fund. The other measure was Proposition 110, known as Let’s Go Colorado, and would have authorized a 0.62-cent increase in the state’s sales and use tax for the next 20 years. It also would have authorized the Colorado Department of Transportation to issue bonds up to $6 billion.
Both proposals received about 40% of voter support. The measures would have supported a variety of projects, including widening and grading on important freight routes. Colorado DOT spokeswoman Amy Ford acknowledged that statewide tax measures can be unattractive to voters and said the agency will continue working on a solution for transportation funding. She said the state’s incoming governor, Democrat Jared Polis, supports mobility and infrastructure funding.
“I think what the challenge is is working with the legislature, the governor [and] local partners to continue to craft a solution on how we handle transportation,” Ford said. “I just know that we’ll continue to address it because it is a high priority for many, many, many people in Colorado.”
Connecticut, California, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah also offered ballot proposals related to generating or dedicating transportation funds. About half of these measures passed.
Missouri’s proposed fuel tax increase, Proposition D, was defeated. The measure would have increased the fuel tax by 10 cents over the next 10 years to boost revenue for the state highway patrol and also created a dedicated fund — the Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund — that would have financed repairs on portions of Interstate 70 and on the north loop of I-270. This stretch, which links Missouri and Illinois in the St. Louis area, carries 500 million tons of freight a year. The state’s current fuel tax — 17 cents per gallon for diesel and gas — is the second lowest nationwide. (Alaska’s, at 14.6 cents, is the lowest.)
Oklahoma voters rejected Question 800, which would have set aside 5% of the state’s oil and gas revenue for the Oklahoma Vision Fund, a “rainy day” account to help in times of economic downturn. The Oklahoma Tax Commission expects taxes on oil and gas production to bring in $639 million this year, meaning $31.9 million would have gone into the account.
In Utah, voters answered “no” on a nonbinding question to increase the state’s motor and special fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon to fund education and local roads.
Even though voters rejected certain transportation-related measures at the state and local level, Eno Center for Transportation President Robert Puentes said the presence of such questions indicates a concern over infrastructure revenue. President Donald Trump’s federal infrastructure proposal, which has not advanced, calls for $1.5 trillion for infrastructure projects over 10 years by relying significantly on backing from the private sector.
“[The White House is] encouraging this kind of self-help from states and cities and metros throughout the country,” Puentes said. “The federal government was interested in being kind of a minority partner.”
In Connecticut, voters overwhelmingly supported an amendment to create a lockbox for transportation funds. The measure would ensure transportation revenue is used only for transportation- related purposes.
Gov. Dannel Malloy told Transport Topics in October that a lockbox measure could help fund repairs to bridges, roads and rail — areas that state officials have “historically underinvested in.” This way, he said, legislators will be prevented from raiding the fund to bolster general operating expenses. Malloy, who is nearing the end of his term, will be succeeded by Ned Lamont, who won a narrow victory Nov. 6.
California’s 2017 fuel tax increase, which raised the tax for diesel by 20 cents to 36 cents per gallon and for gasoline by 12 cents to 41.7 cents per gallon as part of a Senate bill that year, will remain in place. Voters opposed Proposition 6, which would have repealed the increases.
“The trucking industry is happy to see that critical funding is still in place,” California Trucking Association CEO Shawn Yadon said.
Louisiana voters approved an amendment to prohibit money from its transportation trust fund to be dedicated to the state police. Instead, this fund will solely support road and bridge maintenance, flood control efforts, ports, airports and transit.
In Maine, voters approved $106 million in general obligation bonds for transportation infrastructure.
“I think, kind of like the larger narrative around the midterms, it was a mixed bag,” Puentes said of the overall election results as they related to transportation. “There really wasn’t one common theme.”