Transportation systems, like schools, are fundamental public goods that help establish a base of opportunity for everyone who lives in or near a city. And like schools, they still seem to be operating a bit below necessary funding levels.
In November, voters in many cities and states will vote on how local funds for transportation projects should be raised and spent. The number of transit-related measures on state and local ballots is similar to the last midterm election in 2018, says Josh Cohen, executive director of the American Public Transportation Association’s Center for Transportation Excellence, which tracks voting metrics across the country.
This year, the center is tracking 31 ballot metrics, up from 38 metrics in 2018 and 52 metrics in 2020, Cohen says. But the number of measures may not reflect true enthusiasm for the issue, he adds, as many places are still working to respond to opportunities for new federal funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. (IIJA), which was last adopted. year.
“With the move from the IIJA, there’s a lot more interest and excitement about public transport from pubs to places than there was before,” Cohen says. “It’s not just the exciting ballot measures that need to be voted on from now on, it’s all the activity we see in 2023 and 2024.”
Overall, says Cohen, more communities are recognizing that “this is a time for public transit and for infrastructure in general.”
“Communities see public transit as an on-ramp to a better, more prosperous community,” he says.
Here are three metrics to watch for in the November election.
A tax on millionaires in Massachusetts
It’s been a tough year for transit riders in the Boston area. In May, the Federal Transit Administration launched an investigation into safety issues at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority after a series of crashes that resulted in the injury and death of a passenger on the Red Line subway. Later that summer, the MBTA announced it was shutting down the Orange Line, one of its busiest rail lines, to complete five years of repairs and upgrades in just 30 days. Despite hopes that the works would make the train more reliable, it actually ran slower after the stop ended, according to local reports.
In November, Massachusetts voters will weigh in on a proposal that could send more dedicated funding to the T and other parts of the state’s transportation system. The Fair Share Amendment, also known as the Millionaire Tax, would impose a tax on earnings over $1 million a year and stipulate that the earnings would be spent on education and transportation.
According to the text of the measure — a proposed amendment to the state constitution — revenue generated from the tax could only be spent on “quality public education and affordable public colleges and universities, and on repairing and the maintenance of roads, bridges and public transport”. .”
According to a report by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis, the tax would affect just 0.6% of Massachusetts households and generate some $1.3 billion in 2023 alone. that some millionaires employ tax avoidance strategies to reduce their reported in-state income, and that others leave the state altogether. The tax would generate more than $2 billion a year if no one tried to avoid it, the report said.
If the measure passes, details of funding will need to be worked out. The state legislature will always have the final say on how transportation funding is allocated, as it does now. So it’s not a panacea for transportation problems in Massachusetts. But if he succeeds, it could signal a popular appetite to fund broad-based public services with taxes targeted at the wealthy.
“We’re hoping at least half of the funds will go to transportation,” says Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters, a Boston advocacy group. “I also hope that 100% of transportation funds will either go to public transit, equitable decarbonization efforts, or ‘fix first’ road projects. Funds should help us to decarbonise, not incentivize driving more.
Transit System Improvements in Metro Detroit
For a long time, transit service in Metro Detroit’s Oakland County has been funded through an opt-out property tax system, in which individual cities and towns can choose to participate or nope. This has led to “an odd patchwork of buses passing through some cities but not stopping within their borders,” says Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, a Detroit-based advocacy group.
But a question on the November ballot would set the countywide mileage rate, bringing in about $66 million a year and directing $20 million of those funds to new services. The extra revenue would be a big benefit to the system, especially for older people and people with disabilities, and it would end an unbalanced funding mechanism in a growing part of the region, Owens said.
“Metro Detroit has underinvested in public transit for decades. We spend about a third per capita of what most major metropolitan areas spend on their transit systems, and sadly, it shows,” says Owens. “In some cases we have a decent or adequate bus system that tens of thousands of people rely on every day, but there are major destinations that people can’t get to if they don’t drive and trans is not nearly as close. frequent and reliable as it should be to truly be a convenient choice for people across the region.
The measure was approved by a 13-7 vote in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, but was opposed by some city and county officials, who criticized the lack of specificity in the plan. distribution of funds, according to reports. A local group has bought up billboards and shippers opposing the measure, but Owens says he’s “rather optimistic” about his chances of success.
“When we get a chance to talk to people and they know transit is on the ballot and what it is, we tend to get a lot of support,” she says. “There was strong opposition, but most people, when given the opportunity to pause and think about it, see the real value.”
A Penny Sales Tax in Central Florida
The Orlando metro area is a booming city located in a booming Central Florida region. According to officials in Orange County, home to Orlando, the region faces a $21 billion funding shortfall for essential transportation upgrades. In April, the County Board of Commissioners narrowly approved a referendum that would create a one-cent sales tax to fund a wide variety of transportation projects. Voters will decide on the measure in November.
If approved, it is expected to generate some $600 million per year. Ninety percent of the funding would be split equally between regional transit, including the Lynx bus system and SunRail commuter rail, and road improvements. Cities would receive 10% of the funding to spend on their own projects.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings began working to get the tax approved in 2019, but the effort was delayed by the pandemic. Small sales tax increases have been a popular way to fund local transportation and infrastructure projects for years. In Orange County, officials are touting the tax as a way to capture revenue from tourists in the area and spend it on projects that will benefit locals.
Ian Moor, director of campaigns at the Center for Transportation Excellence, says transit initiatives supported by sales tax increases often include a major rail component as cities seek to attract new riders to a system. But it is increasingly important to incorporate improvements to the existing passenger bus service to create the right level of support to push through the mandatory measures. Orange County, Moor says, has built “a very strong coalition that represents the regions well, and they’re very close to passing a landmark ballot measure.”