Transportation questions on three statewide ballots

Election Day is nearly here, and voters in three states from the Pacific Northwest to New England will cast ballots on efforts that cover transportation.

October 2019

Keith Goble

|

Colorado

Voters in Colorado will decide this fall whether to permit the state to keep more of their money to help with transportation and education costs.

Proposition CC on the statewide ballot would allow excess revenues that now are refunded to taxpayers to instead be kept by the state.

Colorado law now caps the state’s revenue, under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment to the state constitution. In place since 1992, the bill of rights requires voter approval for all new taxes, tax rate increases, or tax policy changes that result in increased tax revenue.

Passage of the Nov. 5 ballot question would allow the state to retain excess revenue.

Upon voter approval, excess revenue estimated at up to $1 billion in the first two years would be applied for education and transportation. Public education and higher education would receive two-thirds of the revenue, and transportation would receive the rest.

Gov. Jared Polis says he supports the ballot question to allow the state to keep tax revenue it already collects.

“This commonsense policy doesn’t alter the right of citizens to vote on taxes but allows Colorado to keep pace with a growing economy,” Polis said in prepared remarks.

Critics say state government has plenty of money via the state budget growing by $1 billion annually. Instead of keeping more taxpayer dollars, they say the state needs to prioritize better.

Maine

State lawmakers in Maine met for a one-day special session in late August to discuss adding a question to the state’s fall ballot about whether to tap bonds for highway repairs.

A year ago, voters approved a $105 million bond to fund transportation projects. During the past 12 years, Ballotpedia reports that Maine voters have approved nine transportation bond issues with a combined total of $779 million in bonds.

The money is used to support the Maine Department of Transportation’s work plan. The agency relies on the funds to cover the annual cost of road and bridge maintenance and repairs.

Passage of the transportation bond initiative in 2018 resulted in $80 million in general obligation bonds for construction and maintenance of highways and bridges. The state’s ports, harbors, transit and freight rail, and bicycle and pedestrian trails received $20 million. Another $5 million was applied to culvert upgrades.

Bond advocates want to return to the same well this fall to help cover next year’s highway repair program. First, however, the Maine Legislature must approve legislation to put the issue on the statewide ballot.

The Legislature voted to advance to voters a $105 million transportation bond question to the fall ballot.

The special session was necessary because Maine legislators were unable to get a deal done during the 2019 regular session to include a bond question on the November ballot. As a result, Gov. Janet Mills called them back to the capitol to beat the Aug. 30 deadline to get bond language on the ballot.

Passage of transportation bonding by voters would also draw an estimated $137 million in matching federal and other additional funds.

Opponents say it’s not good business to rely on borrowing to pay for projects. Instead, they say the state would be better served to increase tax rates on gas and diesel to pay for needed work and to match federal funds. They say those methods of raising revenue are fairer, cheaper and more efficient.

The state’s 30-cent excise rate on gas and 31.2-cent rate on diesel are unchanged since 2011.

Washington

Voters in the state of Washington will decide this fall whether to roll back “car tabs,” vehicle sales taxes and other fees. According to a fiscal analysis, the fees totaled $58 million one year ago for state and local transportation work.

The money is used for projects that include highway construction, county roads and bridges, commercial vehicle enforcement, and pedestrian projects.

Initiative 976 would cap vehicle license fees, or car tabs, at $30 yearly. The annual license fees are collected on vehicles weighing under 10,000 pounds.

Commercial trailer fees would also be reduced from $34 to $30, and an electric vehicle fee would be trimmed from $150 to $30. Additionally, authorization would be repealed for certain regional transit authorities to impose motor vehicle excise taxes.

A fiscal impact summary shows that changes to the fees could result in more than $4 billion in lost revenue over the next six years.

In 1999 and 2002, voters approved the $30 cap. A measure approved by voters in 2016, however, raised the annual fees.

Initiative supporters say that a lot of people had sticker shock following the tab increase. They say people experienced car-tab fees doubling, and in some cases the fees tripled.

Opponents say capping fees at $30 would strip state and local governments’ ability to move forward with needed projects. Specifically, they say passage of Initiative 976 would result in $2.3 billion in lost funding for local governments. The state would lose out on $1.9 billion over the same time period.

If the initiative is approved this November, only voters would be allowed to increase car tabs in the future. LL

Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.