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States continue to take action to solve transportation funding crises

This year started with a transportation bang for many states across the country. In the last few weeks, four states in particular have made major strides in funding transportation and infrastructure projects as gas prices continue to remain low.

Georgia transportation officials have said they are facing an annual, billion-dollar funding gap to maintain their existing roads and bridges in good condition.Last week, the Georgia House passed HB 170which would make a few notable changes to their current funding structure, where they currently use both a sales tax and a per-gallon excise tax on gasoline. HB 170 would remove the current sales tax on gasoline entirely and increase the current 8.2 cents per-gallon rate by 21 cents for a new rate of 29.2 cents per gallon. The bill also requires the rate be adjusted annually to adapt to growing vehicle fuel efficiency and inflation in the cost of highway construction.

Besides the excise tax, the legislation would also impose new fees on private electric cars and commercial electric vehicles. The bill has been sent on to the state Senate.

In North Carolina, where gas tax rates are pegged to fuel prices, the House and Senate are moving competing bills to address an expected multi-million dollar shortfall resulting from cheaper gas and growing efficiency.

The Senate’s version, SB 20, eventually would raise the floor for the sinking gas tax from 21 cents per gallon to 35 cents per gallon, and increase the percentage rate on fuel from 7 percent to 9.9 percent. But it actually would cut the fuel tax by 2.5-cents per gallon between now and December. This would reduce transportation funding by $33 million between now and July, but is expected to raise an additional $237 million next year and $352 million a year by 2018.

Last week, the House passed a version of this bill that would reduce the current rate of 37.5 cents a gallon to 36 cents and hold it at that rate until the end of 2015. Delaying an expected drop in the adjustable, percentage gas tax rate (a consequence of falling gas prices) would bring in an additional $142 million during the next fiscal year (or approximately half of the Senate’s version).

In Utah, the Senate acted Monday to raise gas taxes for the first time in 18 years, increasing it by 5 cents per gallon this year, with an additional penny added each of the next four years. The state is currently looking at a deficit of $11 billion over the next two decades if the legislature does not act now. Consideration of the plan now moves to the House, where leaders are considering a slightly different approach.

Coming off a bold call to action in Governor Jay Inslee’s State of the State speech, Washington’s Senate on March 2 passed a $15 billion transportation package paid for by raising gasoline taxes by 11.7 cents over the next three years. It also would allow certain localities, including Seattle, to ask their voters for additional transit funding in the coming years.

Iowa, in the meantime, already has passed and enacted a transportation revenue package. Strongly supported by Governor Terry Branstad, the bill increases Iowa’s state gas tax by 10 cents per gallon. New funds will go entirely to highway projects, as required by a restrictive state constitutional requirement in place in Iowa and dozens of other states.

Watch this space for a more in-depth look into how business community and other supporters, along with legislative leaders, helped move the package to passage.

After years of depressed revenues and growing needs, states are making big moves on transportation this year. Whether or not they have long-term economic payoff will hinge on the degree to which their cities and towns get the resources and latitude they need to compete in the 21st century.

Make sure to check back with our resource that tracks state transportation funding for the latest updates; you can also sign up to receive the latest news and updates.