July | August 2017


 

 

 

 

 

Conference Focuses on Successful State Transportation Funding Efforts

By Sean Slone, CSG Program Manager for Transportation Policy
Transportation policy experts expect transportation funding to be high on the agenda in many state capitols when legislators around the country convene for their 2015 legislative sessions.
While elections and other factors limited the level of activity on state transportation funding this year, 2015 could more closely resemble 2013, when six states approved major transportation funding packages.
Some states are long past due for addressing the transportation funding issue. Others have been hard at work this summer and fall in legislative study committees and other venues trying to come up with potential funding solutions.
State lawmakers and others will have an opportunity in November to hear about past legislative successes, what lies ahead for 2015, innovative funding mechanisms from around the country, lessons learned from funding campaigns, and ways to develop messages and build coalitions for success in their own states. The Washington, D.C.-based organization Transportation for America is hosting a forum Nov. 13-14 in Denver. Transportation for America is an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from around the country that advocates for locally driven transportation solutions as a key to economic prosperity.
“(Transportation for America) hopes that participants will come away from this event with new knowledge, tools and networks to achieve their objectives in advancing innovative transportation funding and policy reform at the state level,” said James Corless, the organization’s director. “We also hope they’ll be inspired to act based on the many success stories that we’ll be highlighting from states (that) have succeeded in raising transportation revenue over the last two years.”
One session on the conference’s first day will look at lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful initiatives considered during the 2013-14 legislative sessions.   
“A key feature in all of the successful legislative efforts in the past two years was building political will and consensus, and most efforts featured a governor who stood up for new transportation investment along with a wide range of political interests who united to support the effort,” Corless said. “Moreover, with each of these efforts, legislators needed to clearly demonstrate the value of additional transportation funding. Innovative policies, including competitive grant programs, transportation performance measures and innovative financing tools are allowing state officials to prove the value of these investments.”
The state funding efforts have occurred against a backdrop of uncertainty regarding the future of the federal surface transportation program and the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Congress earlier this year voted to extend the existing 2012 MAP-21 transportation legislation until May 2015 and to shore up the dwindling trust fund with another transfer from the general fund. While many in Congress would like to see a long-term transportation bill take shape, perhaps as part of a tax reform agreement, some also have expressed support for reducing the federal gas tax and leaving it up to states to decide how to fund transportation and what projects to pursue.
“States and local governments need a reliable federal funding partner, period,” Corless said. “After a long recession that depressed revenues of all kinds and with gas tax revenues flat or dropping, state and local governments face a huge backlog that they are working to address. Their efforts are absolutely predicated on the continued existence of a federal program.
“States and localities should be acting to increase revenues to fund priority projects, but they should be doing so as a supplement to a strong federal commitment, not as an action to fill the federal government’s constitutionally mandated role in shaping interstate commerce.”
Corless believes 2015 will be another busy year for transportation funding efforts in many state capitols.
Some examples include Idaho, which could expand availability of local option taxes; Minnesota, which could pursue new statewide transportation funding; and Georgia, where transportation advocates are looking for new funding after a special purpose local-option sales tax largely failed two years ago, he said.
In addition, he said, “look also for active debates on new state and local funding in Connecticut, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin.”
Denver, where the meeting will be held, has its own unique story, particularly when it comes to local funding for transportation and transit.  
“The Denver region provides inspiring examples of how leaders … can unite on a transportation vision that ensures continued prosperity and how officials can overcome numerous roadblocks—including collapsing revenue during the great recession—by ambitiously adopting new policies and new financing tools,” Corless said. “We are dedicating a panel to learning from ‘the Denver story’ and will feature the diverse leaders who recognized the need and fought to realize the solution.”
The second day of the conference will be devoted to providing a guide to getting transportation funding initiatives across the finish line, Corless said.
“Our goal is not just to discuss the trends in state transportation funding, but to arm attendees with all the tools they need to enact these policies in their states through legislative action and advocacy campaigns,” he said. “Reaching any of these solutions will require much more than smart policy alone: it will require a broad and diverse coalition, a tailored message and effective legislative strategy.”

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