The NCSL Blog


By Jim Reed, Ben Husch and Gretchenn DuBois

To assist states in researching and assessing infrastructure policy options, NCSL has created Infrastructure Resources 2018, which includes existing NCSL resources covering transportation, energy, environment and military infrastructure.

Planes, boats and trucksThe need for additional funding to pay for improvements to American infrastructure is a long-running policy conversation at all levels of government.

The oft-cited Infrastructure Report Card of the American Society of Civil Engineers gives America a D+ for infrastructure condition and estimates that $2 trillion dollars is necessary over 10 years to close the gap between needs and available funding. Those hopeful for a more significant federal role in infrastructure investment received a boost last month with the release of a White House proposal to provide an additional $200 billion. Though this plan is no more than a starting point for discussions in Congress, states have continued moving ahead to assess and fund their infrastructure needs through a variety of mechanisms.

State and local governments pay for the majority of infrastructure improvements in the U.S. According to the Congressional Budget Office, state and local governments accounted for $320 billion, or 77 percent, while federal investment was $96 billion, or 23 percent, of the $416 billion spent on public investments on transportation, drinking water, and wastewater infrastructure. The largest portion of this spending in 2014 went to highways at $165 billion, followed by water utilities and mass transit and rail.

This trend of significant state investment continues in 2018, as indicated by NCSL’s tracking of more than 400 bills in 41 states that address various aspects of transportation infrastructure funding and finance.

As well, at least 18 governors used their state of the state addresses to make the case for more infrastructure spending.

  •  Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) said the state hasn’t increased the gas tax in 25 years. “We have been driving on a flat tire for a quarter century.” Colorado has underfunded maintenance by more than $200 million per year and has a project list of $9 billion.
  • Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) acknowledged the water crisis in Flint, saying “we are at risk in every corner of Michigan for aging infrastructure.”
  • Governor Nathan Deal (R) asked the Georgia General Assembly “to act boldly and provide a means of transportation funding capable of addressing our aging infrastructure.”

Certainly, states are hopeful of additional federal commitments to infrastructure, as the federal government plays a significant role in helping to fund infrastructure, particularly the many different modes of transportation infrastructure. Its largest contribution comes via the Highway Trust Fund, which distributes funding to states through a number of formula based grant programs for road and highway projects.

Revenue for these programs is derived primarily from the federal gas tax, which has not been raised in more than 25 years, although there are additional sources, including general fund transfers. The Highway Trust Fund, and the General Fund, also provide funds to transit programs.

For water transportation, the federal government collects a Harbor Maintenance Tax to help fund port and harbor projects critical to ensuring the timely movement of goods. Further, the federal government assesses a fuel tax on barges to provide a revenue source for our national system of inland waterways, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This system is also heavily supported by discretionary general funds. Finally, on air transportation, the federal government both helps to fund airport improvement projects through discretionary grant programs and the passenger facility charge in addition to ensuring the safe operation of aircraft in the national airspace by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Go to Infrastructure Resources 2018 for a consolidated collection of NCSL resources covering transportation, energy, environment and military infrastructure.

Jim Reed directs the NCSL Environment, Energy and Transportation Program. Ben Husch staffs the NCSL Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee. Gretchenn DuBois provides staff assistance to the NCSL Environment, Energy and Transportation Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.