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regular updates from your association

By taylor mcginley

State Legislative Update

Across the country, voters chose to emphasis the importance of public transportation in the last election cycle. Washington D.C. listened and is working hard to put together an infrastructure package; one that seeks to invest more in surface transportation projects. Discussions have begun in House and Senate committees on what FAST Act reauthorization should look like, specifically on how to address the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Meanwhile, states across the country are planning for FY2020. To help members keep track of emerging state funding concepts, we’ve put together a brief update on legislation advancing through state governments that might affect your transit operation:

Alaska

The Alaska state Legislature recently received Governor Dunleavy’s FY2020 budget. The proposed budget offers deep cuts across industries, including eliminating the community and public transit state match (totaling $1 million). While the Senate is likely to approve most of the Governor’s budget, it is equally likely to take months of negotiations in the House of Representatives. The Alaska Mobility Coalition notes, “for every $1 million provided in this state match an additional $3-4 million dollars is brought into the state.” The state general fund is critically in supporting community and public transit providers across the state.

Georgia

On March 7, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 511. This bill aims to increase transportation options for those who have little to no access to transportation, and seeks to address this in a variety of ways.

The bill eliminates the existing Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and creates the Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Kevin Tanner, argued that this will allow for consolidation and a better utilization of resources.

If enacted, the bill would also create “mobility zones” throughout the state. Within these zones, there would be a mobility manager, who would work with local residents and businesses to help remove barriers to transportation. Three pilot programs would be developed that would “incentivize local communities and the private sector to partner and create new mobility solutions.” One of these programs would seek to assist those who are unemployed, offering those in the poorest counties transit vouchers, to encourage them to take advantage of their local transit system. Another program would seek to provide tax credits or other incentives to companies that subsidize their employees’ transportation to work. These new programs would be funded through the sales tax gathered from transportation network companies (TNCs); no new tax is created.

“In Georgia, transit is managed by six state agencies, 27 planning organizations and over 95 local agencies. The complex structure creates administrative inefficiency and unnecessary red tape. Some parts of Georgia, primarily in rural Georgia, with high poverty rates do not have access to any type of public transportation…to help residents access jobs, education or health care. Thirty-six counties currently lack any public transit system, affecting more than 1 million people in our state.” – Rep. Kevin Tanner

This bill passed the House 159-11 and is now being considered in the Senate. Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry does not support the proposed agency consolidation and is urging the Senate to reconsider this component. The Senate Transportation Committee is expected to vote on this bill by April 2.

UPDATE: The Senate did not  vote on the bill at the end of their legislative session, which ended on April 2. The bill will now have to be revived during the House’s next session.

“The legislation we worked on for two years around transit is extremely important for rural Georgia and all of Georgia.” – Rep. Kevin Tanner.

Minnesota

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has released his FY2020 budget and included long-term funding solutions for transit. The proposed budget would give new revenue to Metro Transit (serving Minneapolis-Saint Paul) and create a new revenue stream for Metro Mobility (Metro Transit’s paratransit service). The transportation package totals $77 million and also includes a gas tax increase of 20 cents.

Walz also proposed a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase within the Twin Cities metropolitan area that is projected to raise $770 million for buses over ten years. The budget also proposes an increase in the motor vehicle sales tax (from 6.5 percent to 6.875 percent), which would raise $205 million over the next ten years for transit.

The budget was presented to the the state Legislature and awaits negotiations in the House and the Senate.

Ohio

The Ohio House of Representatives have passed Substitute House Bill 62, which raises state funding for Ohio’s urban and rural transit systems to $200 million over the next two years. This level of funding is the largest-ever investment for Ohio’s public transportation systems. The bill also gives 150 percent more to transportation funding than the Governor’s proposed budget. These funds will likely be used for maintenance, procurement and upgrades.

In addition to the increase in mass transit funding, the bill would increase the gas tax 10.7 cents over two years and the diesel tax by 20 cents over three years. Both increases would go into effect on October 1st, 2019. The revenue raised from this tax would be split 55/45, 55 percent to Ohio DOT and 45 percent to local governments. The current tax stands at 28 cents.

On March 13, the Senate Committee on Transportation, Commerce and Workforce held it’s first hearing on the proposed legislation. It is likely that this committee will meet with many stakeholders before advancing the bill.

UPDATE: On April 2, the Ohio General Assembly passed a two-year transportation budget that includes a 10.5 cent gas tax increase. The new gas tax is now 38.5 cents a gallon and will take effect on July 1. It is estimated to raise approximately $865 million a year for new transportation projects. This also means that public transportation funding almost doubled; increasing to a new budget of $70 million a year. This approved budget is now on its way to Governor DeWine for a final signature.

Pennsylvania

There are two issues facing transit in Pennsylvania: state legislation that would postpone changing the system offering transportation for non-emergency medical assistance patients (known as MATP) and the stalemate on the $450 million annual payment the Pennsylvania Turnpike owes the state Department of Transportation.

Two bills are before the state Legislature that would postpone changing the current county-managed NEMT system to that of a full brokerage system, which was approved in last year’s appropriations bill. The brokerage system would replace the state’s long-standing Shared Ride program. In this program, county-based agencies transport patients to non-emergency medical appointments, along with seniors and those with disabilities. Each type of ride (NEMT trips that are free, senior trips which are $1 or a person with disabilities which is assessed $3 to $7.50) has its own stream of revenue and costs are shared between the types of rides. Public transit, and other constituent groups, are concerned that the new brokerage company will not properly train drivers to operate NEMT services or they’ll contract the transportation services out to TNCs/private individuals. The two bills in the state legislature call for a review of the approved proposal by the State Department of Human Services. As of now, the state is moving forward with the change.

The other issue facing transit is the Turnpike debt. The turnpike has missed its quarterly payments to the DOT due to a federal lawsuit challenging the use of turnpike tolls for public transit. Because of the lawsuit, the turnpike can’t issue bonds to raise the money it needs to make the required payments. In response, PennDOT has moved money around and delayed projects, however additional cuts and problems will arise if the lawsuit isn’t settled by the next fiscal year. PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards is worried that without the payments, “the distribution of transit capital projects in the new fiscal year will be dramatically lower.” PennDOT is unable to estimate how much revenue transit agencies might lose.

UPDATE: U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed the lawsuit against the turnpike. While this is most likely welcome news for PennDOT, the dismissal still doesn’t solve the issue of the lack of funds flowing to public transportation programs. It is expected that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Inc. (a primary plaintiff in the lawsuit) will appeal the decision.

Looking Forward

CTAA staff are actively monitoring state legislation as they progress through their respective bodies of government. We will continue to update CTAA members on new legislation that might impact their operations. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the above legislation, or you’ve seen a bill in your state you’d like CTAA to take a closer look at, please reach out to mcginley@ctaa.org.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.