State legislators from around the country were in Seattle last week for the annual National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Legislative Summit. Approximately 5,000 state legislators, legislative staffers, federal officials and others attended the meeting to gain invaluable knowledge from experts and fellow legislators to take back to their respective states. Attendees participated in an array of policy-producing committee meetings, issue forums and deep-dive sessions.
Transportation funding remains a hot topic for state lawmakers, and the conference featured a “deep-dive” session entitled “Filling Up the Tank: Funding Transportation,” which provided legislators a forum to discuss developing sound transportation plans in their states that create sustainable revenue, prepare for the future and meet immediate needs. Rep. Judy Clibborn, a Democrat who chairs the state’s House Transportation Committee and Senator Mike Vehle, a Republican from South Dakota who has been a leader on transportation issues as well, gave a joint presentation on how their respective states were able to pass gas tax increases.
The lawmakers identified some common steps that need to be taken to generate support for, and achieve passage of major transportation funding legislation. Those included:
- Generate bipartisan support, specifically through the work of a legislative task force made up of members of both parties.
- Build a coalition of allied interest groups including the business community.
- Support from the Governor and State Department of Transportation is vital.
- Determine the state’s financial need, and set goals before discussing increasing taxes.
- Take the discussions on the road – hold meetings around the state to discuss the need for transportation investment.
- Flexibility and compromise also important.
In recent years, states have taken the lead in addressing transportation needs. And, it is clear through sessions like the one at NCSL last week, they will continue to do so.