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By Kerry O’Hare, Vice President and Director of Policy, Building America’s Future

April 12, 2017

The news coming from California last week was not surprising.  After months of debate, the legislature approved and the governor signed legislation to invest more than $52 billion over the next ten years to modernize the state’s transportation infrastructure.  Everything from transit to roads and bridges will benefit from this much needed infusion of funding.  With this action, California became part of a trend sweeping through red and blue states alike where elected officials have voted to generate new revenue for infrastructure. 

Since 2013, 18 states have approved increases to their state’s gas user fee to fund essential transportation projects.  These increases have run the political spectrum from red states like Wyoming and Utah with Republican governors and legislatures, to blue states like California and Vermont with Democratic governors and legislatures.  And even in a state like New Jersey with a Republican governor and Democratic legislature, a gas user fee increase was approved last year.  So far this year, 18 additional states are considering legislation to increase their gas user fee.

It’s not just the nation’s state houses that are taking action.  Many communities across America have supported ballot measures that sought to increase revenue for transportation infrastructure.  According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, the success rate for such initiatives from 2000 to 2015 was a whopping 71 percent.  In 2016 there were a record number of such ballot initiatives -77- of which 69 percent of them were approved by voters. 

The success at the state and local levels clearly demonstrate that when a coherent and rational case is made about the benefits of increasing the gas user fee or other revenue sources – elected officials and voters are often willing to support such measures.  It has become lore in Washington that raising the gas user fee is akin to touching the third rail of transportation politics.  But a recent study by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association showed that 95 percent of all Republican state legislators who voted to increase their state gas user fee to fund transportation in 2013 and 2014 and ran for re-election won their races.  For Democratic legislators, the re-election rate for those who voted for a gas user fee increase was 88 percent.

It’s time for policymakers in Washington to take a lesson from their state colleagues.  The federal gas user fee is in dire need of modernization.  It has been nearly a quarter century since the 18.4 cent federal gas user fee has been increased.  In that time, the cost of everything has gone up.  Imagine trying to get by today on the salary you earned in 1993. 

President Trump has often decried the poor condition of America’s infrastructure and vowed to put forth a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.  According to the President and DOT Secretary Chao, their plan is likely to focus on speeding up the project approval process and incentives to increase private sector investment.  We at Building America’s Future believe that such a plan must also include a robust funding component.  While we are supportive of public-private partnerships, we know they are only feasible for a handful of larger projects that will rely on a steady revenue stream, such as toll roads.  The majority of needed projects, however, will continue to rely on a combination of federal, state and local funding.

As Infrastructure Week 2017 approaches, there is no better #TimeToBuild. 

This post can also be found on the Infrastructure Week Blog