The outcome of state ballot initiatives, including project funding and business issues, seemed to favor construction interests on Nov. 2. With federal highway spending uncertain in a second Bush administration, transportation funding measures were high priorities for states.
Voters overwhelmingly approved state and local project funding measures worth more than $26 billion in future construction of roads, transit, schools and public works. The approval rate was the highest in a decade, says The Bond Buyer, a municipal finance publication. Transportation issues dominated the ballots, with 55 in 21 states, 40% more than in 2002, says the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. About 78% of all bond and tax initiatives passed, including all 12 measures to raise capital for transportation projects, ARTBA says.
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California voters showed their devotion to highways by passing most transportation tax measures by large margins, including six tax extensions and four new sales taxes in nine counties, worth a total of $33 billion. The results left Thomas Holsman, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of California, "pleasantly surprised." He credits high voter turn-out and higher driver frustration.
State Voters Favored Construction Spending
|California: $980 million for seismic upgrade of BART system; $500 million for stormwater runoff in Los Angeles; $1.4 billion for community colleges|
|Texas: Tax hike to fund half of $650-million Dallas football stadium; $60 million for diesel-powered rail line near Austin.|
|Rhode Island: $66 million for transportation; $70 million for environment projects; $114 for tech construction and renovations at U. of Rhode Island|
|Arkansas: $500 million for economic development|
|Arizona: $951 million in bonds for community colleges in Maricopa County|
Sources: The Bond buyer, ARTBA, ENR reports
Voters in Missouri made it crystal clear that highway user revenue should not fund nontransportation items. More than 80% of voters supported Amendment 3, which will kick in over four years. "It frees up $1.3 bil-lion in new funding for construction and maintenance," says Jewell Patek, amendment campaign manager.
Major transportation projects won support across the country, from a $4.7-billion sales tax increase in Colorado to fund FasTraks, a light rail program for Denver and its suburbs, to $300 million in road and rail upgrades in Virginia. Voters in Seattle narrowly managed to save, for the fourth time since 1997, plans for the citys $1.5-billion monorail.
Not all voters were transportation boosters. In addition to seeing his brother re-elected, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was gifted with the ballot-box defeat of the state's high-speed bullet train, a project that was constitutionally approved by voters four years ago. Bush considered it a $25-billion boondoggle and two-thirds of state voters agreed.
But voters were also generous in funding other infrastructure, including schools in California and a $3-billion bond in Miami-Dade County that could fund up to 300 projects in the next 15 years, particularly housing and sewers.
Rhode Island voters supported $327 million in the states largest-ever bond package. "It was a good day for transportation and public works projects," says Henry Sherlock, executive director of Construction Industries of Rhode Island.
Nonfinancial initiatives in several states also left construction interests pleased. Voters in Colorado rejected a measure that would have lifted caps on damages that homeowners could collect from contractors for shoddy work. Amendment 34 lost by 3-to-1 after a fierce battle between homeowners and homebuilders.
The state also approved a measure requiring large utilities to generate more renewable energy by 2015. And in Washington state, cleanup of the U.S. Energy Dept.s Hanford nuclear site may accelerate after voters banned new waste shipments there until current waste is removed.