Ten Lessons Learned from Recent Legislative and Ballot Campaigns to Increase Local and State Transportation Funding

All across the country, a battle is being waged for increased funding for local and state transportation investments particularly for transit. Ballot initiatives continue to have a greater than expected success rate and the past few years have been monumental for increasing transportation funding in state legislatures.

In preparation for a legislative effort to increase transportation revenues and funding for Massachusetts in 2013, the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy worked with the Massachusetts Transportation Research Collaborative and the Conservation Law Foundation to better understand both successes and failures from campaigns across the country.

The Working Paper they produced is presented in two parts—lessons learned and case studies. It was prepared in order to make the results of this research effort more widely available to those who are working in cities and states throughout the country to secure substantial, reliable public support for much needed transit and transportation investment.

The introductory section of the paper attempts to synthesize 10 lessons that have been learned from all of the campaigns as well as from the most recent efforts in Massachusetts.

The lessons are summarized below and explored in greater detail within the paper itself:
1) Both the Legislature and the Voters Matter
2) Plans Are Better than Projects
3) Understand What the Public Thinks
4) One Key to Victory in Transit Campaigns is Those Who Will Never Use Transit
5) Humor Helps
6) The Agency Needs to be Respected – or Invisible
7) Service Cuts and Fare Increases Are a Strong Motivator…But May Not Be Enough
8) Include Funds for Operations – Including Buses
9) Don’t Neglect Transit Allies
10) If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try, Again

The second part of the Working Paper presents seven transit finance campaign case studies (download all seven case studies in one document):

    • 2008 Los Angeles County Ballot Measure to Pass a Transportation Sales Tax (Measure R)
      As federal funding became appropriated for other uses, Los Angeles County realized that it needed to fill a budget gap in order to maintain and expand its local transit system. This bill was attractive to lawmakers and voters because it would also help curb the high levels of auto congestion throughout the county and improve the flow of traffic in and out of major urban areas. This case study examines the methods, strategies and ultimate outcomes of this financing campaign.
    • 2009 Keep New York Moving Campaign
      By 2009, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was faced with budget short-falls that would require them to raise fares for riders and/or initiate massive service cuts. In order to avoid raising fares or cutting services, the MTA, through the newly established Empire State Transportation Alliance (ESTA), was able to pass a measure in the state legislature that earmarked nearly two billion dollars in tax revenue to rescue the MTA. This case study examines the methods, strategies and ultimate outcomes of this campaign.
    • 2010 St. Louis County Initiative to Pass a Transit Tax (Prop A)
      Metro Transit – St. Louis (Metro), after having to cut service and lay off workers in 2008 due to budget shortfalls, was able to get a half cent sales tax increase passed by St. Louis County voters. This tax increase came after years of attempting to raise funds to restore and expand the Metro within the county. This case study examines the methods and strategies used as well as the obstacles the county faced throughout this campaign.
    • 2010 Transportation Works for Kansas Ten Year Program
      The Kansas State Legislature, after identifying a transportation budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year due to the expiration of a previous transportation finance bill, voted on and passed Transportation Works for Kansas (T-WORKS), a bill that would ensure additional tax revenue to fill the gap and help maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure. This case study examines the obstacles and successes that lead to the passing of the T-WORKS bill.
    • 2011 King County, Washington (Seattle) Initiative to Enact a Congestion Reduction Charge
      The King County Metro Transit (Metro) is the largest transit agency in Washington State, serving the King County metro area in and around Seattle. By 2010, the Metro (which received most of its funding from sales tax percentages) was faced with declining budgets due to declining sales tax revenue. The solution was to pass a measure which would cover the lost tax revenue by adding a “Congestion Reduction Charge” to the cost of licensing a vehicle in the county. This case study examines the methods and strategies used in this financing campaign as well as transferable ideas and lessons learned along the way.
    • 2012 Atlanta Referendum to Pass a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax
      In July of 2012, a referendum was put to a vote with the goal of securing additional tax revenue to increase the size and extent of the existing Metro Atlanta transit system. Law makers hoped that improving the struggling transit system would alleviate traffic congestion in Metro Atlanta but would later learn that the voters had other concerns. This case study examines the methods, strategies and ultimate outcomes of this financing campaign.
    • 2012-13 Massachusetts Transportation Funding Campaign
      After a report by the Transportation Finance Commission revealed the extent of degradation within Massachusetts transportation systems due to chronic underfunding, policy and lawmakers set out to find new sources of additional revenue to help restore the state’s transportation infrastructure. The 2013 measure introduced into the state legislature was aimed at increasing revenue for state Regional Transit Authorities, the highway systems and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. This case study examines the methods, strategies and ultimate outcomes of this financing campaign.
Published On: September 25, 2018
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