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Behind the Popularity of Transportation Tax Increases

Transportation ballot measures are popular this November: over 70 populate ballots across the country. In California and elsewhere, they supplement declining federal and state funds for local infrastructure.
October 27, 2016, 10am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Local transportation tax increases are generally quite popular (as tax increases go), and not just among Democrats. This November, Steve Scauzillo writes, "Nearly one-third of California's 58 counties will ask voters to approve transportation taxes, part of a record-setting number of measures appearing on ballots across the nation." 

Local transit tax measures have long been on the rise. According to Jason Jordan at the Center for Transportation Excellence, if every such tax increase in the United States passes this year, they will raise $175 billion for transportation infrastructure. 

On the local level, that's impressive, and necessary. Federal and state funding, which localities have come to rely on, is getting harder and harder to obtain. "In California during the last fiscal year, local funding equaled $14 billion, twice the amount of federal and state funds. The state has a $57 billion, 10-year shortfall in maintaining freeways and state highways." Part of the problem lies with the federal gas tax, which hasn't been raised for 22 years, allowing the Highway Trust Fund to deplete. 

Additionally, getting federal grants in the first place often involves fronting some part of the money. "Several smaller counties, such as Placer and Humboldt, need to bank transportation dollars from local residents in order to pry even the smallest federal grant from Washington to widen a freeway or fix the potholes."

But voters appear willing to pay higher taxes to fund specific local projects. Businesses and residents can align behind the economic benefits of good local infrastructure. And, the article notes, nobody can take it away. 

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Published on Friday, October 21, 2016 in San Gabriel Valley Tribune
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