Most of the ballot measures involved property tax increases to pay for road repairs. The road builders group reported that 57 ballot initiatives across 12 states had the potential to raise $20 million in revenue each. All told, voters approved $7.7 billion worth of investment into transportation projects and $1.9 billion in continued funding over the next quarter-century. Washington State and Colorado were among the few to vote for tax cuts that are likely to squeeze highway budgets.
The issue is important at the local level, too. The United States Conference of Mayors published a campaign agenda wish list in December that called on 2020 presidential candidates to say what they would do to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, regulate new transportation technology and strengthen public transportation.
“While Washington is so often paralyzed by partisanship, mayors continue to show how things can get done,” Bryan Barnett, the group’s president and the mayor of Rochester Hills, Mich., said in a statement.
President Trump’s initial infrastructure plan — coming in widely mocked “infrastructure week” presentations and promising “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land” — stalled a few times before resurfacing again last spring. A $2 trillion infrastructure package seemed politically plausible, until impeachment murmurs became a roar and appeared to sideline the issue.
In the meantime, Democratic candidates have begun talking about infrastructure. At this point, a majority of them have called for big spending on transit infrastructure. Only John Delaney — well outside the top tier of candidates — has proposed raising the federal gasoline tax, which directly finances the Highway Trust Fund. That option seems politically unlikely, but the Congressional Budget Office has made a number of recommendations regarding highway funding, including charging motorists based on road use and initiating performance benchmarks for road projects.
“There are a number of pilot programs going on right now to test vehicle use fees that are going extremely well,” Mr. Tymon said. “It’s not something you’re likely to see in the next federal transportation bill, but it’s something you could see in the next five to 10 years.”
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, most states have raised their gasoline taxes over the last several years. Along with the ballot initiatives passed to support highway projects, states could take a bigger role in their own infrastructure destinies. Ironically, more state-level control and funding is one of the tent poles of Mr. Trump’s thus far unrealized infrastructure policy.
“How many ‘infrastructure weeks’ have we had over the past few years? We need one that sticks,” Mr. Herrmann said. “State and local governments are working hard to get things done, but we need the federal government to step up with a bill.”