By Jonathon Bates
Voters in three states—Colorado, Maine and Washington—voiced their opinions on statewide transportation funding proposals in the 2019 elections.
While Maine approved bonding for transportation projects in the state, Colorado rejected keeping excess revenue for transportation purposes and Washington repealed a significant source of funding for state and local transportation projects.
In Colorado, voters rejected Proposition CC, which would have provided an estimated $217 million to road, bridge and transit projects over two years by allowing the state to retain a third of excess tax revenues to fund such projects. Excess revenues will continue adhering to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, adopted by voters in 1992, which refunds excess revenue back into the pockets of taxpayers.
In Maine, Question 1 authorized a $105 million bonding measure, which will be used to match $137 million in federal and other revenues. Of the state’s share, $100 million will go to roads, bridges, rail, maritime, aviation and bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and $5 million will go to other infrastructure-related projects.
In Washington, Initiative 976 capped vehicle registration fees, known as “car tabs,” at $30 for a passenger vehicle and $105 for an electric vehicle and also eliminated certain sales taxes dedicated to transportation projects. Currently, registration fees range, based on gross vehicle weight, from $53 to $93 for a vehicle under 10,000 pounds. For electric vehicles, the fee is $150, in addition to a $75 “electrification fee” that is not affected by the initiative.
Registration fees help fund the state highway patrol, Pugent Sound ferry, transportation and multimodal projects and the Motor Vehicle Fund, used by the state for local road, street and highway purposes.
While the distribution of revenue is not affected, a fiscal note prepared by the state projected a total funding reduction of $4.2 billion over six years, with $1.9 billion falling on the state and $2.3 billion on localities. In response, the governor issued a statement ordering the state Department of Transportation to defer projects not already underway and further directed other state agencies receiving transportation funds to defer non-essential spending.
Washington’s state Supreme Court upheld a Nov. 27 injunction by a King County judge preventing initiative 976 from going into effect. A subsequent statement by the governor directed the state Department of Licensing to continue collecting “car tab” fees at current rates until otherwise ordered by a court.
Jonathon Bates is a policy associate in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program.