Voters in four states to decide on transportation-related issues

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

Election Day is one month away and voters

in states around the country will cast ballots on efforts that cover transportation.

In Illinois, the statewide ballot will include a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to protect transportation revenue.

The question was added to the statewide ballot after the General Assembly acted this spring to ask voters whether to amend the Illinois Constitution to prevent revenues from the state's road fund from being used for purposes not related to transportation.

Diverting revenue from fuel taxes and other driver fees is a common practice in Illinois. Since Fiscal Year 2003 a reported $6.8 billion in state transportation-related tax revenue has been raided for other purposes.

The diversions contribute to the state's projected $43 billion transportation funding shortfall over the next decade.

If approved by voters, all transportation-related revenues would be directed solely for transportation purposes that include construction and paying debt related to transit projects. The governor's office would also be prevented from tapping into the funding source for other uses.

The protection would not apply to state and local sales taxes. The taxes are often added to the fuel tax collected at the pump.

Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, highlighted the benefits the measure would have for infrastructure.

"First, it is ridiculous that we would use transportation-related fees for anything other than the improvement of our infrastructure," Forby said in prepared remarks. He added that the constitutional amendment would fix the issue.

New Jersey voters will decide whether to ensure all revenue from the state's fuel taxes permanently goes toward improving transportation infrastructure. The gas tax includes a 10.5-cent motor fuels tax and a 4-cent petroleum products gross receipts tax. The diesel rate is set at 17.5 cents per gallon.

In Fiscal Year 2016 the fuel taxes are estimated to raise $541 million. The tax on the gross receipts of the petroleum products is expected to raise $215 million.

The full amount of the gas tax is already dedicated to the state's Transportation Trust Fund. However, 3 cents of the diesel tax is not dedicated to the fund.

If the tax rates are raised in the future, the amendment dedicates the increased revenues that would result from the tax increase to the trust fund.

The proposal would also dedicate all revenue from the petroleum products gross receipts tax to the trust fund.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson/Bergen, said the ballot question is a common-sense first step to ensure the state's economic well-being.

Across the country in California voters will get a say on the use of state revenue bonds for certain projects that could include transportation work.

Passage of Proposition 53 would require a public vote before the state could issue more than $2 billion in public infrastructure bonds. Usage of the bonds requires an increase in taxes or fees for repayment.

One project that could be affected by the proposition's passage is the state's high-speed rail project. The previously approved project has a bond amount that exceeds $2 billion.

Supporters say that freeway construction projects are less likely to be affected by the ballot question. They point out that transportation work is usually covered by vehicle taxes and fees.

For occasions that bonds are used the state typically relies on general obligation bonds, which already require voter approval.

Opponents say the proposition erodes local control by requiring statewide votes for some local projects.

Back on the East Coast ballots in Maine will include a question about whether to approve a $100 million transportation bond. Question 6 would allot $80 million for highway and bridge work. The other $20 million would be routed for projects that include ports, harbors, and freight and passenger railroads.

Passage of this fall's bond measure would qualify the state for $137 million in federal matching funds for transportation projects.

Maine voters approved a separate $85 million bond initiative for highway and bridge work one year ago. LL