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Local Transportation Funding Measures Voted on Across the U.S.

Current federal and state sources of transportation revenue have proven inadequate to meet our nation's investment needs.  In response, local and regional governments have increasingly turned to their own dedicated sources of revenue to maintain and expand their transportation systems. On November 6, 2012, voters in 11 states weighed in on various local transportation funding ballot measures. According to data compiled by the Center for Transportation Excellence, voters considered a total of 19 such measures, including 12 sales tax measures, five property tax measures, one gas tax measure, and one bond issue. Eighteen of these measures focused on new or renewed revenues, and one concerned the distribution of existing revenue sources.

In total, voters approved 12 and rejected seven of the 19 measures. In both Los Angeles County and Alameda County, CA, a majority of voters approved the local sales tax measures, but not by the two-thirds supermajority required under state law. The Los Angeles example is particularly noteworthy. Measure J would have extended an existing half-cent sales tax, Measure R, for transportation for 30 years, which would have been used toward the acceleration of 15 major projects. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has actively promoted the leveraging of future transportation revenues to support accelerated project delivery, for example through the 30/10 Initiative.

Sources: Adapted from Center for Transportation Excellence, Transportation Ballot Measures; Pierce County Auditor. Results are current as of November 8, 2012. Click image for larger version.

Voters in special districts in Kansas City, MO, and Los Angeles are currently considering proposed taxes -- sales and property taxes in Kansas City and property taxes in Los Angeles -- to support proposals for downtown streetcar projects. These two mail-in elections will be completed in early December 2012. Both cases are examples of value capture, a policy that seeks to use a portion of the increased land values created by a transportation investment to help finance the capital and maintenance costs of that investment.  GO TO 2040 supports value capture as an innovative source of funding for transportation projects. CMAP analyzed the use of value capture for transportation projects in the Chicago region, including analysis specifically on its application to transit.

Between 2000 and mid-2012, there have been approximately 350 municipal, county, or regional transportation funding ballot measures across the U.S., according to the Center for Transportation Excellence database.  These initiatives generally pass -- and the Center estimates a long-term success rate of 70 percent -- suggesting that voters understand the need for new transportation revenues. 

GO TO 2040 calls on the state and federal governments to increase their commitment to transportation, but continued inaction at those levels of government demonstrates the need for regions to develop their own sources of revenue. In its advisory report from January 2012, CMAP's Regional Tax Policy Task Force recommended that northeastern Illinois follow the lead of other regions that are pursuing regional revenue sources for transportation capital projects. CMAP staff is currently researching this issue and expects to release a report and policy recommendations this winter.