Summaries of the 30 Most Important Transportation Ballot Questions
November 9, 2016
Our short summaries of each of the top 30 ballot initiatives at stake last night follow, in alphabetical order, below. We will be updating our entire database of 375 such ballot measures throughout the week.
California – Alameda & Contra Costa Counties – Measure RR – PASSED – This is a $3.5 billion general obligation bond issue that would raise funds to repair and update the Bay Area transportation system (BART). If passed, the funds would go towards replacing damaged infrastructure, modernizing electrical systems, increasing the systems capacity, and more (read the full plan here). Opponents of the measure argue that BART can’t be trusted to responsible spend the money this measure would raise. Supporters, however, say that these funds are necessary in order to not only increase capacity, but also maintain crucial infrastructure in the BART system. Learn more here.
California – Contra Costa County – Measure X – FAILED – This measure would increase sales taxes by a half-cent for the next 30 years, raising an estimated $2.9 billion for repairing potholes and fixing roads; improving BART capacity and reliability; improving highways 680, 80, 24, and 4; enhancing bus/transit including for seniors and people with disabilities; increasing bicycle/pedestrian safety; improving air quality; and reducing traffic. The full funding plan can be viewed here. The website for the “pro” side is here and the “anti” side is here.
California – Los Angeles County – Measure M – PASSED -The largest ballot measure in the county is expected to bring in a total of $120 billion over 40 years for surface transportation improvements ($850 million in the first year), paid for by a permanent extension of the temporary half-cent sales tax increase enacted in 2008 and by an additional half-cent sales tax increase (also permanent). 35 percent of the money would build new transit projects, including Purple, Gold and Crenshaw lines and the massive Sepulveda Pass tunnels. 17 percent would fund a dozen major highway projects, 2 percent would go towards bike-ped projects, 17 percent would be distributed to the municipalities within the County for local projects, and the rest would pay for ongoing operations. The full plan can be viewed here. Most of the opposition to the plan comes from locals in areas that wouldn’t see improvements until the second half of the 40-year period.
California – Placer County – Measure M – FAILED –This proposed half-cent sales tax would raise $2.9 billion over 30 years. If approved, the funds could only be used for the construction, maintenance, and operation of roads and public transit in the County. Those in favor of the measure argue that it is necessary in order to improve traffic, repair infrastructure, and improve access for seniors and disabled persons (among other things). Those opposed say that the sales tax increase will do more harm than good and that the proposed projects will not be completed without further tax increases. Learn more here.
California – San Diego County – Measure A – FAILED –A proposed one half-cent sales tax increase that would raise $18.2 billion over 40 years. The tax would go towards increased funding for specific transit, highway, open space, bike and pedestrian projects (read more here). Supporters of the measure argue that this will reverse years of neglect to the region’s infrastructure and will reduce traffic. Opponents contend that the 40-year sales tax would do more harm than good and that it does not dedicate enough funding to transit. Learn more here.
California – Santa Clara County – Measure B – AHEAD BUT NOT CALLED YET –This measure would institute a half-cent sales tax that is expected to generate $6.5 billion over 30 years. Aimed at alleviating the region’s transportation woes, the measure would fund a BART extension that runs through San Jose and into Santa Clara, as well as regional road repairs, Caltrain upgrades and increased service, new expressways, and more. Those in favor of the measure argue that it is necessary in order to help repair damaged infrastructure in the region and to help ease congestion. Those opposed have pushed back arguing that the measure does not focus enough on the reduction of green house gas emissions and also ignores the need to repair and maintain existing roads. Learn more here.
California – Ventura County – Measure AA – PASSED – A half-cent sales tax that is expected to raise $3.3 billion over 30 years. (Currently Ventura is the only county in Southern California that does not have a sales tax in place for transportation) If passed, half of the funds would go towards maintenance of local roads, while the remainder would be divided up between freeway widening projects, public transit, bike/pedestrian, and other small projects. Opponents of the measure cite the “Christmas tree” effect of the initiative – they believe that the wide range of interests that are included in the measure will diminish the effectiveness of the money. Supporters argue that the region is decades behind in infrastructure repairs and that this measure is critical for safety and quality of life in Ventura. Learn more here.
California – Statewide – Proposition 53 – FAILED – This statewide measure would require voter approval before the state could issue any “revenue bonds” totaling $2 billion or more. While it is unlikely that many projects would be large enough to qualify for voter approval, opposition and support is strong. Those opposed argue that the proposition could force a statewide vote on a local project and that it could inhibit the state’s ability to repair old infrastructure or respond to emergencies/natural disasters. Those in favor say that the proposition will help hold politicians accountable (currently elected officials and agencies can borrow state revenue bond debt without getting voter approval) and that it would not impact local projects or disaster response. Learn more here and the official state voter guide here.
Florida – Broward County – FAILED – Broward County has two intertwined measures on the ballot. The county sales tax is currently 6.0 percent. One pending measure would increase the sales tax by 0.5 percent for the next 30 years to fund county-wide “transportation improvements to reduce traffic congestion, develop rail and enhanced bus systems, improve roads and signalization, and develop safe sidewalks and bicycle pathways”. The other measure would increase the sales tax by 0.5 percent for the next 30 years to fund infrastructure more broadly (with funding distributed at the town level), defined as “construction and improvement of public buildings, facilities and roads, transportation projects, pedestrian safety projects, purchase of equipment and public safety vehicles, and recreation/conservation land acquisition”. Both measures must pass in order for either one to take effect, so the sales tax is either going to 7.0 percent or staying at the current 6.0 percent. Proponents of the tax increase have an interactive map of projects online, and a full list here. Each half-cent is estimated to raise $6.3 billion over 30 years, for $12.6 billion in total. (The transportation one passed, but the infrastructure one didn’t and thus nullified the other as well.)
Georgia – City of Atlanta – MARTA Sales Tax – PASSED – The voters of the City of Atlanta are being asked to increase their sales tax by 0.5 percent, through the year 2057, “for the purpose of significantly enhancing MARTA transit service in Atlanta.” MARTA is currently funded by a 1.0 percent sales tax in Fulton County (inside and outside Atlanta city limits), Clayton and DeKalb Counties, and via farebox revenues and federal grants. The proposed extra half-cent in Atlanta would raise an estimated $2.5 to $3.5 billion dollars and MARTA’s list of projects that could be funded with the money is here. (Full disclosure: MARTA CEO Keith Parker is a member of the Eno Center’s Board of Directors.)
Georgia – City of Atlanta – T-SPLOST – PASSED – The voters of the City of Atlanta are also being asked, separately, to increase their sales tax by 0.4 percent for 5 years “for the purpose of transportation improvements and congestion reduction.” The tax would raise an estimated $380 million over five years and the project list is here.
Georgia – Fulton County – T-SPLOST – PASSED – The voters of Fulton County outside the Atlanta city limits are being asked to increase their sales tax another 0.75 percent for five years “for the purpose of transportation improvements and congestion reduction.” The tax is estimated to raise $568 million over five years and the project lists are here.
Hawaii – Honolulu – Amendment 4 – PASSED – This ballot measure is significant because it poses a governance question: whether operations and maintenance responsibilities should be shifted from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to the Honolulu Department of Transportation. This measure emerged as a reaction to ballooning costs from the construction of the city’s rail system, increasing from $8 billion a few years ago to $11 billion currently. It may provide a precedent for voters changing a transit agency’s governance.
Illinois – City of Chicago – Infrastructure Advisory – PASSED – Voters in the City of Chicago are voting on a non-binding advisory that reads like this: “Should the City of Chicago work with the Federal Government and the State of Illinois to prioritize significant new investments in important infrastructure like roads, bridges, public transportation, river and lakefront redevelopment, and additional green space?” This is so vague as to be almost meaningless – one analysis of the situation noted that “Mayor Rahm Emanuel has faced criticism that he and his council allies have packed the three available spots with feel-good questions that prevent voters citywide from weighing in on politically charged issues.”
Illinois – Statewide – Constitutional amendment – PASSED – This is another “lockbox” amendment preventing taxes or fees relating to transportation from being spent on anything other than transportation. The exact language says that “no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds.” However, Illinois’ state finances are in such horrible, pitiful shape – with sinking bond ratings and a Supreme Court ruling that prevents the state from cutting pension costs for retirees – that many “good government” groups oppose walling off transportation revenues forever, fearing that it will lead to deeper cuts in basic services. The Chicago Sun-Times recently did an investigative piece on the money behind the campaign for the amendment, which pointed out that the measure is a “rare, tacit truce between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan…” And the Chicago Tribune – long the voice of the state GOP – issued a blistering editorial calling the amendment “diabolical.”
Louisiana – Statewide – Amendment 5 – PASSED – This resource-rich state is seeking to establish a sovereign wealth fund—called the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund—funded by excess oil and gas revenues as well as corporate franchise and income tax revenues. Once the fund reaches $5 billion, a portion would be used for construction projects and transportation infrastructure. This presents yet another scenario where a state is using new, creative means to generate funding for transportation infrastructure – without raising excise taxes on gasoline directly. The full language of the amendment is here.
Maine – Statewide – Question 6 – PASSED – Maine’s statewide ballot measure Question 6 asks voters whether the issue $100 million in general obligation bonds to finance highways, bridges, and multimodal facilities. The Maine Department of Transportation would be responsible for overseeing bond proceeds. Although there is no specific project pipeline, $80 million would go towards improving highways with the highest priority and $20 million to various projects, such as ports, harbors, rail, bike/ped, and transit. The state already has a history of passing similar infrastructure bond measures. In 2015, voters approved $85 million in bonds and in 2013, voters approved a $100 million transportation bond. So far, local news platforms have come out in support of Question 6, including the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News, and the Kennebec Journal.
Michigan – Detroit metro area – FAILED – As we pointed out in our past coverage, this measure is particularly significant because Detroit remains the last and largest major metropolitan area without a regional transit system. A ‘yes’ vote will provide $4.7 billion to build out a rail and bus network, paid for by a 20-year property tax increase that is estimated to cost the owner of a $150,000 home an extra $95 per year. The outcome will ultimately reflect voters’ confidence in their ability to function as a cohesive region. More information from the regional transit agency is here and a good Q&A from Crain’s is here.
North Carolina – Wake County – PASSED – Although Wake County does not have a cohesive regional transit network, a proposed half-cent sales tax would generate $1 billion towards a $2.3 billion regional transit plan. This would significantly expand bus and commuter rail service into neighborhoods currently lacking transit access, and improve connectivity within the Research Triangle (the cities of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh).
New Jersey – Statewide – Question 2 – PASSED – Eleven months ago, the New Jersey legislature voted by wide margins to put this question on the ballot: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to dedicate all revenue from the State motor fuels tax and petroleum products gross receipts tax to the Transportation Trust Fund?” At the time, the Garden State’s gasoline and diesel taxes were among the lowest in the country, and 3 cents per gallon of the diesel tax did not go to the Trust Fund. But since then, New Jersey has raised its gas tax by 159 percent, which has changed the politics of the already-scheduled vote on the Question 2 “lockbox” amendment. Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno (R), Chris Christie’s running mate and the person who will replace him if he, ahem, leaves office mid-term for some reason, is leading opposition to Question 2. And an added complication is that the political deal to raise the gas tax last month took the form of several different pieces of legislation – Assembly Bill 12 increased the taxes, but Assembly Bill 10 authorized $12 billion in borrowing to fund transportation projects, subject to the full amount of the gas tax increase being deposited in the Trust Fund. Ratifying Question 2 would prevent the legislature from being able to go back on the tax increase once the bonding is allowed to take effect.
Oregon – City of Portland – Measure 26-180 – PASSED – Ah, Portlandia. The whole country is looking for alternative funding streams for transportation, but you take the cake (in fairness, you probably have a serious case of the munchies). Measure 26-180 would levy a 3 percent tax on the sales of recreational marijuana that would go towards a variety of dedicated uses, including drug treatment, public safety, and “street infrastructure that improves safety…” See the full text of the measure and the official explanation, in very very small print, here.
Rhode Island – Statewide – Question 5 – PASSED – Two of Rhode Island’s seaports would be expanded to accommodate the wider “neo-Panamax” ships. This statewide measure would issue $70 million in general obligation bonds for modernization and deepening projects. $50 million is for the Port of Davisville, which is a major automobile import hub, and the other $20 million is for the Port of Providence. This will be an interesting measure of voter willingness to support investments in economy-focused projects, versus those aimed at their individual commutes. More information is here.
Rhode Island – Statewide – Question 6 – PASSED – As part of a proposed $35 million “green economy” bond issuance, Question 6 sets aside $10 million “for the State to design and construct bikeways. Projects to be funded under this program would include high priority bikeway connections such as the Blackstone Bikeway and South County Bikeway.”
South Carolina – Charleston County – PASSED – Residents of Charleston County will be voting on a measure that would bring in total revenues of $2.1 billion over 25 years from a half-cent sales tax increase. The revenues would fund a variety of transportation projects, ranging from airport-area improvements to resurfacing rural roads to expanding transit services. So far, some of the specific allocations include $1.4 billion for road projects and $609.4 million for public transportation. This is a reaction to insufficient funding from their state government. Local opposition stems from the fact that a new Interstate 526 is no longer part of the plan.
Texas – City of Austin – Proposition 1 – PASSED – This would authorize a $720 million bond issue to pay for a specific list of surface transportation improvements – $482 million in corridor improvements, $137 million for local mobility projects and $101 million for regional mobility projects. (The full list of projects is here.) The city estimates that the bond service cost would be $69 per year to someone who owns a home at the median Austin home value of $305,600 (per Zillow).
Virginia – Arlington County – PASSED – In a response to the oft-discussed Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) fiscal challenges, Arlington County voters will decide whether to issue $30 million in general obligation bonds for WMATA’s capital improvement program. (This is part of the $58.8 million that will also go towards local street projects.) It will be interesting to see if voters in this transit-intensive county still have trust in the system, despite the recent turmoil (and the pushback a few years ago against a proposed streetcar system.)
Virginia – Fairfax County – PASSED – As with their neighbors in Arlington County, Fairfax County in northern Virginia will also be voting on whether to issue bonds to finance their share of WMATA’s six-year Capital Improvement Plan. The ballot measure asks for $120 million. Despite the system’s many recent troubles, it will be interesting to see whether residents still have faith in WMATA.
Virginia – Virginia Beach – Advisory Referendum on Light Rail – FAILED -Across the past three decades Virginia’s largest city has debated constructing a light rail line to complement its existing bus lines. The most recent entry in this saga is a nonbinding referendum on whether the city should construct a $234.1 million light rail line. The proposed 3.5 mile line will connect with neighboring Norfolk’s starter light rail line, The Tide. While the majority of expenses will be covered by a $155 million contribution from the state of Virginia, the city’s treasurer organized an opposition movement that has been supported by the local tea party and the Cato Institute.
Washington – Seattle metro area – Proposition 1 (Transit 3 Plan) – PASSED – The second largest ballot measure before voters this year would provide $53.8 billion to Sound Transit over 25 years for expanding service and expediting capital projects, doubling the size of its light rail network, and adding commuter rail. The pay-for would be an additional 0.5% sales and use tax; a property tax of $0.25 or less per $1,000 of assessed valuation; and additional 0.8% motor-vehicle excise tax. The interactive project map is here and the full Sound Transit plan is here. The voter guide for the initiative itself is here.
Washington – Statewide – Initiative 732 – FAILED – Washington state residents will be voting on Initiative 732, which proposes to tax carbon emissions on certain fossil fuels and fossil fuel-generated electricity, making it the first of its kind in the county. Other details include reducing the sales tax by one percentage point, increasing a low-income exemption, and reducing certain manufacturing taxes. Despite the measure’s intent to address climate change, it has been mired in an unusual battle, with local environmental groups coming out in opposition. For example, the local chapter of the Sierra Club does not support the measure on the grounds of low-income communities and people of color not being adequately considered and concerns about revenue projections. Structurally, this relates to transportation because carbon taxes dedicated to reducing carbon use have an inverse relationship to the receipts of motor fuels excise taxes that are used to fund transportation projects.