Update to MAPA on 2017 Omnibus Transportation Funding Bill

Jim Wafler, MAPA Legislative Consultant

The Omnibus Transportation Funding Bills have now passed both the House and Senate. In the immediate future, we can expect conference committees to begin the process of reconciling differences.

The normal procedure in the past has been to get into conference committee and then send a reconciled bill to the Governor for approval or veto, and if vetoed, start negotiating with the Governor for a fast-track bill nearer the end of the legislative session. From what we are hearing, precedents will be broken this year. We now expect these conference committees to remain open, and negotiations with the Governor will be ongoing until some agreement is reached later in the session.

Legislators are on their Easter break, presumably going back home to meet with constituents in some way, like a town meeting or eggs and issue breakfast. It would be an excellent opportunity for MAPA members to make their views known.

Here is a rough critique of the two bills, and a message we might want to send to legislators:

  • Both bills provide insufficient, sustainable funds for the future for roads and bridges. Each one dedicates some portion of the sales tax on motor vehicle parts to highways, but it is not clear that all of that money and its growth potential in future years is truly dedicated to highways. We need to stress that in any negotiations with the Governor, they must truly provide sustainable funds and, if dedicating the sales tax on auto parts, all of it, including future growth, must be part of the final package.
  • Neither bill, from what we can ascertain at the moment, meets last years’ total targets of $600 million per year or $6 billion over 10 years. The House bill appears to be close to the target (the Senate bill is at about $3.6 billion), but we need a solid commitment to that target. It appears that in both bodies, the temptation is to spend more on huge tax cuts in the tax bill at the expense of money for highways and transportation generally.

As both bills stand right now with regard to transit, there is too little in the bill for even regular bus transit in the metro area, so that the Governor would probably veto the bill on that issue alone. This is not our fight, but somehow, the ultimate bill will have to address current metro transit deficits or risk a gubernatorial veto.

One other item of note:  The House bill does provide the language for increased truck weights, but that language was deleted on the Senate floor after tremendous pressure from the Teamsters and others. We will be working to keep the House position on that during the conference negotiations.

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