State and Province News March 2013
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
According to a list of the Plainville’s top 10 taxpayers of 2012, published in The Bristol Press, Tilcon Connecticut is the second highest taxpayer. According to the report, the subsidiary of Oldcastle Materials Group paid more than $23.5 million in taxes during 2012.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider announced a nearly $50 million investment in community transportation projects throughout the state, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. The funding comes through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) and will support more than 400 jobs through 54 projects. The state DOT received 328 applications requesting ITEP federal funding of $327 million.
Gov. Mike Pence presented a two-year state budget proposal that would divert some of the state’s surplus to fund transportation. According to Indystar.com, the budget would retain a state policy that caps reserves — currently approximately $2 billion — at 12.5 percent. As it stands, the state splits funds that exceed that cap between taxpayer refunds and shoring up state pension funds. Pence proposes diverting an estimated $347 million during the next two years from pensions to transportation. The pension plans are 82-percent funded, and Pence believes that, as the Major Moves program funds run out, the state’s transportation needs are greater.
According to the Quad-City Times, state Director of Transportation Paul Trombino III told lawmakers that raising motor fuel taxes isn’t the only way to fund the state’s critical transportation needs, but noted that alternatives such as bonding, tolls, and sales taxes each have shortcomings. “There is a sense that the motor fuel tax won’t work forever, but it will work for a period of time,” he reportedly told the Senate Transportation Committee. He noted that the state’s grid system of roads would make it easy for motorists to avoid toll roads. Trombino also explained that it would take a 1.1-percent increase in sales tax to raise the $440 million generated by the state fuel tax, but would trigger an additional increase of three-eighths of a cent dedicated to conservation spending due to a measure approved by voters to take effect the next time the state raised the sales tax. He suggested that rather than rely on one source of funding, “the more diversified the funding we have in transportation long-term is a significant benefit.”
Gov. Deval Patrick and his transportation secretary pitched a plan to spend $13 billion during the next decade, according to NECN.com. The report notes that the dollars “would allow expansion of rail and bus service and close the funding gap that has forced the state to borrow funds for basic repairs and upkeep of roads and bridges.” Patrick presented a long list of options to generate the additional billion dollars each year. Those options include a 30-cent gas tax, an income tax increase to 5.66 percent, and a sales tax increase to 7.75 percent. The additional funds would be used for a South Coast rail extension, a Green Line extension, a Springfield-to-Boston rail line, and the expansion of the Southern Station.
Gov. Rick Snyder is seeking to expand transportation funding within the state through one of two options, Crain’s Detroit Business reports. The first option would work within the existing road funding formula, which was created in 1951 and has been amended more than 100 times. It would implement a user-fee increase that includes higher registration fees, taxing gasoline at the wholesale level, and an optional increase in regional user fees. The second option would be to discard the 1951 plan in favor of increasing the state sales tax by 2 cents, with the revenue being dedicated to transportation funding.
Two Missouri state senators proposed a 1-cent sales tax for 10 years to help fund the state’s infrastructure needs. According to the News Leader, the bill was introduced in the Senate in early February and would require voter approval. The bi-partisan legislation was sponsored by Republican Mike Kehoe and Democrat Ryan McKenna. Kehoe told the newspaper that a dedicated transportation sales tax would help fill the hole in the state’s infrastructure funding. State transportation officials said funding for construction and improvements fell from $1.2 billion to less than $700 million during the last year.
Buffalo Crushed Stone donated approximately 40 tons of large rocks to the Clarence Nature Center. The Clarence Bee reports that the rock will be used to accommodate markers and mark trail entrances. Nearly 3,000 students from Clarence schools have visited the nature center and hiked those trails.
A recent report from Portland Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade blasts the transportation department, noting that the city’s transportation revenues have risen, but spending on maintenance programs has dropped. According to the Portland Business Journal, she notes that “this reduction in maintaining key infrastructure places the city’s long-term fiscal sustainability at greater risk.” She called for a new overall transportation strategy. The department’s head was slated to resign in February at the request of Mayor Charlie Hales. “This is the appropriate time to take stock of Portland’s street maintenance situation since estimates through 2016-17 show revenues from both gas taxes and parking continue to rise,” Griffin-Valade wrote.
Governor McDonnell’s transportation funding plan, Virginia’s Road to the Future, is picking up support from numerous groups throughout the state. The plan eliminates a 17.5 cent per gallon sales tax and replaces it with an 8/10 of 1 percent increase in the state sales tax. According to a website dedicated to the plan, it will invest more than $3.1 billion above existing revenues over the next five years for Virginia’s highways, transit systems, rail networks, airports, and port. Investments totaling $2.75 billion into the Commonwealth Transportation Fund will include $500 million per year by FY 2019 to eliminate maintenance crossover and an additional $1.8 billion in new construction during the next five years, $500 million more for state transit needs, and $273 million more for state passenger rail. If passed, the plan would also invest an additional $309 million in K-12 public education and provide $137.8 million for localities to use at their discretion.
In late January, the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission issued a 162-page report that called for additional funding for the state’s transportation needs, The Bond Buyer reports. “Without additional funding for Wisconsin’s transportation programs over the next decade, network conditions and safety will deteriorate, and system needs will grow in all modes,” the report notes. “The state’s decades-old transportation funding model is not keeping pace with current or future needs. The state has chosen to address its transportation funding shortfall with increased debt through bond issuance — a path that is unsustainable over the long term.” The report calls for raising at least $387 million and suggests raising the state gas tax by 5 cents per gallon, creating a new mileage-based registration fee for passenger vehicles and increasing heavy truck registration fees. It also suggests increasing driver license fees by $20 and eliminating the sales tax exemption on vehicle trade-ins.