The Lists: 10 Ballot Measures to Watch on Election Day

November 4, 2016

Here at Eno, we are closely tracking not just the Presidential campaign drama, but also the hundreds and hundreds of transportation ballot measures and initiatives that are up for a vote on November 8. As we have written, the way these measures got on the ballot and the message voters will send foretell a future of more citizen involvement in the decisions that shape their communities and regions.

(Also see this piece from UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies showing our database totals for each state on a map.)

In our quest to catalogue and analyze these measures, several interesting trends emerge. For one, it is clear that public transit is the big focus for cities and regions: more than half of the total potential funding would go toward everything from rail to buses to ferries. But there are also important questions for seaports, airports, and bike paths.

Property and sales taxes are the most popular ways to raise transportation dollars, but we also found that some places are getting creative. Clark County, NV and Coos Bay, OR are asking voters to boost fuel taxes. There is also a carbon tax in Washington state, a cigarette tax in Missouri, and an income tax in Indianapolis. Voters in Illinois will be asked to whether to create a “lock box” meaning those dollars won’t be used for anything that is not transportation-related (this was not the case before).

We also found that not all measures are designed to raise money. There are a few dozen referenda asking voters to provide non-binding feedback on issues like building a light rail line in Virginia Beach. Willow Springs, IL is asking voters whether they want to allow the use of red light cameras. Alabama voters will decide whether to set up a toll district in Baldwin County. They’re even going to decide whether to build a railroad museum in Maine.

In addition to those themes there are ten measures, questions, and/or initiatives we are following most closely. This list goes beyond those that generate the most revenue, analyzing those that have broader implications in these places and beyond:

  • Metropolitan Detroit: As we pointed out in our past coverage, this measure is particularly significant because Detroit remains the last and largest major metropolitan area without a regional transit system. A ‘yes’ vote will provide $4.6 billion to build out a rail and bus network. The outcome will ultimately reflect voters’ confidence in their ability to function as a cohesive region.
  • Los Angeles County: The largest ballot measure in the county is expected to bring in a total of $120 billion over 30 years. Measure M would provide funding for various transportation projects, ranging from extending the Purple and Gold Lines and expanding bike/pedestrian connections to transit. This measure extends an existing tax for 18 years and levies a new sales tax increase. It matters not just because of its size, but also because it would allow Los Angeles to create and sustain a robust transportation network.
  •  Rhode Island: Two of Rhode Island’s seaports would be expanded to accommodate the wider “neo-Panamax” ships. This statewide measure would issue $70 million in general obligation bonds for modernization and deepening projects. We are interested to see if voters are willing to support investments in economy-focused projects, versus those aimed at their individual commutes.
  • Louisiana: This resource-rich state is seeking to establish a sovereign wealth fund—called the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund—funded by excess oil and gas revenues as well as corporate franchise and income tax revenues. Once the fund reaches $5 billion, a portion would be used for construction projects and transportation infrastructure. This presents yet another scenario where a state is using new, creative means to generate funding for transportation infrastructure.
  • Sound Transit District, Metropolitan Seattle: The second largest ballot measure would provide $53.8 billion to Sound Transit over 25 years for expanding service and expediting capital projects, doubling the size of its light rail network, and adding commuter rail. We are particularly interested to see if voters are ready to embrace the bus rapid transit aspect of the plan.
  • Honolulu: This ballot measure is particularly significant because it poses a governance question: whether operations and maintenance responsibilities should be shifted from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to the Honolulu Department of Transportation. This measure emerged as a reaction to ballooning costs from the construction of the city’s rail system, increasing from $8 billion a few years ago to $11 billion currently. We are particularly interested to see if it passes, as it would provide a precedent for voters changing a transit agency’s governance.
  • Atlanta: Voters in the Atlanta area will be faced with two ballot measures. Both would dedicate some sales tax revenues to the regional transit entity – Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). (Full disclosure: the MARTA General Manager Keith Parker is on the Eno Board of Directors.) The first is a half-penny sales tax that would generate $2.5 billion and would focus on generating funding for expanding transit services. The second is a transportation special purpose local option sales tax (TSPLOST) referendum. This is a 0.4 percent sales tax that would generate $340 million for other transportation projects, including the BeltLine redevelopment and phase 2 of the local bikeshare program.
  •  Wake County, NC: Although Wake County does not have a cohesive regional transit network, a proposed half-cent sales tax would generate $1 billion towards a $2.3 billion regional transit plan. This would significantly expand bus and commuter rail service into neighborhoods currently lacking transit access, and improve connectivity within the Research Triangle (the cities of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh).
  • New Jersey: Despite the challenges New Jersey faced this year when raising the state gas tax, voters will now decide whether to commit gas tax revenues exclusively to transportation projects, also known as a “lockbox” amendment. This becomes a question of whether voters trust their state legislature to spend the new transportation money well or whether it should be strictly for transportation.
  • Arlington, VA: In a response to the oft-discussed Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) fiscal challenges, Arlington County voters will decide whether to issue $30 million in general obligation bonds for WMATA’s capital improvement program. (This is part of the $58.8 million that will also go towards local street projects.) It will be interesting to see if voters in this transit-intensive county still has trust in the system, despite the recent turmoil.

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