Rough Time for State Activity

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It’s been a rough couple weeks in state capitols for infrastructure advocates as four states – Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington – are struggling to enact major transportation funding proposals. Particularly disappointing is that in each state seems so close to the finish line.

In Texas, the high profile filibuster over abortion legislation during a special session actually derailed several other bills including a proposal that could have dedicated $1 billion annually for road construction and maintenance. Several proposals are still currently receiving consideration in a second special session, and there is hope something may get passed. Some legislators have said they are concerned that voters would view the legislation as a complete solution for transportation funding instead of as a stopgap to keep transportation programs going until a bigger solution can be found.

In Washington, the support of the Governor and the business community was not enough to convince Republican Senators to take up a $10 billion package. The proposal, which was passed by the House included a 10.5 cent increase in the gas tax to pay for projects including a replace I-5 bridge over the Columbia River into Oregon. The legislature’s adjournment without approving the package may have doomed the bridge project. Oregon already approved its $450 million portion of the funding plan for the project but without Washington’s portion, it appears unlikely that $850 million in matching federal funds would be forthcoming.

Pennsylvania lawmakers adjourned for the summer without passing a $2 billion package that included an increase in the state’s wholesale fuel tax. House members could not agree to the package passed by the Senate and both parties are blaming each other for derailing the bill. The issue may be reconsidered the fall, but legislators on seem to be far apart on how to proceed at this point.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick vowed Thursday to veto a transportation finance plan supported by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate if makes it to his desk in its current form. The governor argues that the bill, which includes $500 million in higher taxes on cigarettes and gasoline, does not raise enough money to upgrade and expand crumbling roads, rails, and bridges. He wants legislators to raise the gas tax even higher.

Despite these setbacks over the last couple weeks, it’s been an encouraging year at the state level. Legislatures in as many as 18 states have considered increased infrastructure funding, including politically unpopular gas tax increases. Major funding plans have been passed this year in Maryland, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming. In many cases the efforts have been bipartisan.

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