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Voters Make Voices Heard on Transportation Funding

Voters across the nation again confirmed the high value they place on transportation infrastructure improvements.

Fri November 08, 2013 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Voters across the nation again confirmed the high value they place on transportation infrastructure improvements by approving 91 percent of Nov. 5 ballot measures to increase or extend funding for highways, bridges and transit and electing two transportation advocates for governor.

There were 21 ballot initiatives at the state and local level, the largest number in a decade for a year that did not include congressional races or a presidential election. The total value of the approved measures was nearly $240 million. On average, the successful ballot measures were approved with 67 percent of the vote. Transportation investment advocates also won gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.

The approval rate for transportation funding measures is even greater than in previous years — voters approved 68 percent of similar measures in 2012, 55 per cent in 2011, 61 percent in 2010, 78 percent in 2008, 77 percent in 2007, 77 percent in 2006, 83 percent in 2005 and 76 percent in 2004.

Of the 21 measures, one was statewide and 20 were local. Four of the five bond initiatives were approved by voters. Twelve ballot measures were for increasing, extending or renewing a sales tax for transportation purposes, and other measures addressed property taxes, a card room tax, and a transaction and use tax.

In Maine’s statewide initiative, 72 percent of voters supported a $100 million transportation bond. It will finance $76 million for highway improvements, $27 million for bridges, $24 million for ports and rail, and $5 million for local governments. This bond also will leverage an additional $154 million from federal and state funds.

Arizona voters considered several bond measures. In Mesa, voters approved Question 2, which will authorize $79 million in new general obligation bonds to pay for streets and highway improvement projects. Fountain Hills voters approved $8.2 million in general obligation bonds to also fund new road improvements.

In Virginia, residents of Loudon County passed a $3.18 million bond to fund public road projects. In California, four cities in Marin County — Corte Madera, Larkspur, San Rafael and San Anselmo — successfully passed sales tax increase ballot measures to fund transportation and other general services. Most notably, San Rafael’s Measure E — a proposal to extend the city’s one-half cent sales tax for 20 years while also implementing a .25 percent increase — will raise the city’s sales tax to 9.25 percent, making it the highest sales tax rate in the United States.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, voters approved — with 62 percent support — a tax extension proposal to renew a one-cent local option sales tax to fund infrastructure projects for a ten-year period. This measure will use 100 percent of the new revenues to fund street maintenance, repair, construction and reconstruction projects.

Transportation Funding and the New Jersey and Virginia Governor’s Races

Transportation funding issues also played a significant role in the high profile Republican gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.

New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who in January 2011 laid out a five-year, $8 billion “pay-as-you-go” plan to fund road, bridge and transit projects in the state, won 60 percent of the vote in a landslide re-election. Christie’s plan averted a looming 2012 transportation funding crisis, when the full $895 million the state collects annually from its gasoline tax would be needed to repay principal and interest on past work.

In Virginia, where the candidates’ divergent views on transportation investment were a key campaign issue, the transportation advocate, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Earlier this year, McAuliffe, a business executive and political fundraiser, lobbied the state’s legislature to support a bipartisan transportation funding package bolstered by new revenue that was being pushed by the current governor, Republican Bob McDonnell. Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, publicly lobbied against the package and, when it was approved by the state legislature, threatened to use the courts in an attempt to reverse it.

During the campaign, McAuliffe supported — and Cuccinelli opposed — construction of major road and transit improvement projects in traffic-choked Northern Virginia.

Ballot Initiatives Earlier in 2013

In addition to these November election results, ARTBA also tracked 16 ballot measures throughout the year — 82 percent were successfully approved by voters. The total value of these measures was $93 million. Six of these ballot measures proposed increasing, extending or renewing a sales tax for transportation purposes, seven for property tax extensions and three were for bonds.

In October 2013, Wake County, N.C., voters overwhelmingly approved $75 million in new bonds to fund transportation maintenance projects throughout the county. The transportation bond will be implemented in 2014, which also includes a 1.12-cent property tax increase.

There were five ballot measures in Missouri, and all of these initiatives were approved by voters. Platte County voters approved the “Street Sales Tax” in April 2013. This measure renewed the .375 percent sales tax for the next ten years and the revenues will help fund transportation projects within the county — projects will include roads, bridges, drainage structures, and sidewalks.

When compared to the results from the last 10 years, the 2013 elections prove that the public’s support for state and local transportation investment initiatives has gotten stronger.

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