Local Transportation Funding Plans Largely Successful in This Week’s Elections
November 9, 2017
A bevy of proposals to increase transportation spending at the state and local level, either through new indebtedness or dedicated tax revenues (or through indebtedness to be repaid by dedicated tax revenues) were largely successful in the November 7 elections.
Pinal County contains the southern suburbs of Phoenix and the northern exurbs of Tucson. Voters there approved a 20-year regional transportation plan totaling $616 million, of which 92.5 percent was for a specific set of road improvements, 3 percent was for public transportation (park-and-ride and dial-a-ride) and 4.5 percent was for administrative costs. However, the 57 percent margin by which the plan was approved is misleading – the approval of the plan could not take effect unless voters also approved the new half-percent, 20-year sales tax to fund the plan was also approved. The sales tax was approved much more narrowly, only garnering 51 percent of the vote (it prevailed by about 900 votes).
Denver, Colorado – Question 2A (bond for surface transportation) – APPROVED, 75%.
Voters approved the issuance of a new $431 million general obligation bond for “repairs and improvements to the Denver transportation and mobility system” and specified that the bond be issued “with no increase in the city’s current rate of taxation for general obligation debt service based on the city’s projected assessed value.” The market will set the interest rate on the bond but total interest payments over the life of the bond are capped at $345 million. The text of the ballot question includes, but is not limited to, types of road, transit and bike/ped improvements inducing the 8th Avenue Viaduct Bridge.
Pinellas County, Florida – sales tax extension – APPROVED, 83%.
Voters approved the extension of the “Penny for Pinellas” sales tax for transportation, just as they did in 1997 and 2007. The money goes “to finance county and municipal projects, including roads, bridges, flood and sewer spill prevention, water quality, trails, parks, environmental preservation, public safety facilities, hurricane sheltering, vehicles, technology, land acquisition for affordable housing, capital projects supporting economic development.” After taking $225 million off the top for economic development and a new jail, Pinellas County would get $915 million for transportation projects and the individual cities within the county (principally St. Petersburg) would split an additional $853 million
(A note on Georgia law.) The State of Georgia allows local boards of commissioners to introduce special sales taxes for transportation funding. Municipalities may hold special elections to vote on a one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). Municipalities may not impose more than one SPLOST at any given time, and the sales tax collected must be used for capital projects (money may not be used for operating costs). The tax can be levied for up to six years as long as the county and municipalities enter an intergovernmental agreement.
SPLOSTs include project lists which vary in level of specificity, sometimes naming specific project goals, locations, and design elements, and sometimes allocating funds to general areas, such as “road resurfacing.” SPLOSTS may be specifically geared towards certain types of projects – a SPLOST for only transportation projects is a TSPLOST.
Athens-Clarke County, Georgia – TSPLOST: APPROVED, 74%
The one percent sales tax will fund 19 projects (pre-selected by the board of commissioners and mayor), with a $109.5 million estimated budget need. Projects include airport improvements, busses and bus stops, major corridor improvements, multi-use path expansion, bike/ped projects, road resurfacing, and more.
DeKalb County, Georgia – SPLOST: APPROVED, 70%
A one percent sales tax over up to six years will raise an estimated additional $636,762,352 for infrastructure projects including transportation projects, as well as drainage, police and fire facility and equipment, parks and recreation, and public works facilities. The transportation projects will include road resurfacing, bicycle and pedestrian projects, and road redesign projects. Each of the twelve cities within DeKalb County and unincorporated DeKalb County identified unique specified projects and project types (see list here).
Voters approved the extension of two expiring sales taxes directed towards transportation – two-tenths of a point for “the purposes of operating a City Public Transit System, including purchasing and maintaining buses and other transit vehicles, transit facilities, and equipment and such other transit-related purposes” and three-tenths of a point for “the purposes of constructing, improving, and maintaining public streets, sidewalks, storm water facilities, and recreational trails, bikeways, and paths including residential traffic calming devices, residential curb and gutter replacement, improvements to crosswalks and accessible ramps, reconstruction of roads and intersections, purchasing fire apparatus and related fire equipment.”
Maine statewide transportation bond – APPROVED, 72%.
Voters approved the issuance of a $105 million, ten-year bond on the full faith and credit of the state. $80 million is for “Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3 state highways under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 23, section 73, subsection 7 and for associated improvements, for the department’s municipal partnership initiative and to replace and rehabilitate bridges” and $20 million is for “facilities or equipment, including property acquisition, related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, freight and passenger railroads, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails that preserve public safety or otherwise have demonstrated high economic value.”
Grand Rapids, Michigan – new mass transit millage – APPROVED, 61%.
There were a bevy of extensions of property tax millage set-asides in Ohio and Michigan at various elections this year. The Grand Rapids area approved the extension of “a tax of 1.47 mills beginning in 2018 for continuation of current services and other public transportation purposes…This millage would cover twelve (12) years, beginning in the year 2018 and continuing through 2029. It would be levied on the taxable value of all taxable property in The Rapid’s district (the six cities of East Grand Rapids, Grandville, Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming). The Rapid estimates that this millage would raise $15,265,325 in its first year.”
Allen County, Ohio – new sales tax for mass transit – REJECTED, 41%.
Voters in the Lima area rejected a new quarter-point, ten-year sales and use tax “for all transit purposes of the Allen County Regional Transit Authority.”
Mahoning County, Ohio – extend expiring sales tax for mass transit – APPROVED, 58%.
Voters in the Youngstown area agreed to extend an 0.25 percent sales tax dedicated to the Western Reserve Transit Authority which will otherwise expire in April 2019.