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Billions in Infrastructure Bonds on Ballots

Monday, November 5, 2012

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While Americans choose their next President tomorrow, millions will also determine the fate of scores of ballot propositions tied to billions of dollars in infrastructure funding.

Voters in 38 states will also be voting on 176 different ballot propositions, according to the latest information from the Initiative & Referendum Institute. At least nine states have measures that would affect bridges, roads, water and wastewater facilties, and other infrastructure.

After seemingly endless months of political ads and campaigns, you might be feeling anxious, excited, or just plain over it, á la little Abigael in the now-viral YouTube video. Buck up, there's only one more day to go!
Prop 6 in Michigan would require voter approval of all new international bridges and tunnels.

Deciphering the Jargon

While every state allows the legislature to place a measure on the ballot (a legislative referendum), not all states allow initiatives or popular referendums.

Twenty-four states have included the initiative process in their constitutions. Initiatives propose new laws or constituional amendments and are placed on the ballot by petitiion. Initiatives can either be direct, where enough signatures place the proposal on the ballot to be voted on by the people, or indirect, where the proposal must first be approved by the legislature before reaching the ballot.

There are also 24 states that allow popular referendums (most are also initiative states). Popular referendums are also triggered by petitions, but they allow voters to approve or repeal a law that the legislature already enacted.

State-by-State Breakdown

The following is a state-by-state explanation of ballot measures that could affect several different types of infrastructure.

Alaska: Bonding Proposition A is a legislative referendum asking voters if the state should issue its general obligation bond in the principle amount of no more than $453,499,200 to pay for state transportation projects.

Arizona: Proposition 204 is an initiative titled "Quality Education and Jobs Act." This proposition asks voters to permanently increase the state's sales tax to 6.6 percent starting June 1, 2013. Currently, there is a temporary state sales tax rate of 6.6 percent set to expire on May 31, 2013, at which point the sales tax would decrease to 5.6 percent.

This proposition anticipates that the tax increase would annually generate at least $1 billion, and that money would be used for educational programs, public transportation infrastructure projects, and human services programs.

Out of the first $1 billion generated (or a proportional amount if less is collected), the state infrastructure fund would receive $100 million, plus an additional 11 percent of anything over $1 billion. The money is to be used by the state's Department of Transportation for costs associated with a variety of transporation infrastructure projects, the acceleration of highway improvement projects, public-private partnerships relating to transportation projects, funding for environmentally sensitive designs and transporation-related wildlife improvement projects, and to pay for bonding and other finance costs related to transporation projects.

The Legislature would not have any ability to adjust the new tax increase disbursements under any circumstances.

Arkansas: Issue 1, a legislative referendum, is a proposed constitutional amendment to provide additional funding for state highways, county roads, city streets, bridges, and other surface transportation. The amendment would levy a temporary sales and use tax of 0.5 percent for transportation projects.

The state's portion would be used to secure up to $1.3 billion in State of Arkansas General Obligation Four-Lane Highway Construction and Improvement Bonds.

Hawaii: HB 2594 is a legislative referendum that proposes a constitutional amendment to authorize the state to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds to assist dam and reservoir owners in making their facilities compliant with current safety standards.

Maine: Question 4 is a legislative referendum to authorize a general fund bond issue to invest in transporation infrastructure. The $51.5 million bond issue would be for improvements to highways and bridges, local roads, airports and port facilities, as well as funds for rail access, transit buses, and the LifeFlight Foundation, which will make the state eligible for at least $105.6 million in federal and other matching funds.

Also on Maine's ballot is Question 5, a legislative referendum to authorize a general fund bond issue for wastewater and drinking water revolving loan funds. This would approve a $7,925,000 bond issue to be expended over two years for revolving loan funds for drinking water systems and wastewater treatment facilities, which will make the state eligible to secure $39,6250,000 in federal grants.

Michigan: Proposal 6 is an initiative to amend the state constitution regarding construction of international bridges and tunnels. If passed, this proposal would require the approval of voters in statewide elections and also in each municipality where new interntaional bridges and tunnels for motor vehicles are to be located.

The majority of voters would have to approve before the state can use state funds or resources for acquiring land, desiging, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges and tunnels.

Oklahoma: State Question 764, a legislative referendum, amends the state constitution to create the water infrastructure credit enhancement reserve fund and allows the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds.

Ponca City OK WW Plant
City of Ponca City, OK
A referendum in Oklahoma would allow the state's Water Resources Board to issue bonds.

Any bonds issued would be used to provide a reserve fund for the board for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs. The fund could only be used to pay other bonds and obligations for the funding programs, and no more than $300 million in bonds could be issued.

Rhode Island: Question 5 is a legislative referendum for clean water finance agency bonds. The proposition would authorize the state to issue up to $12 million in general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes to be leveraged with federal and state capitalization grants to finance wastewater infrastructure projects. Another $8 million could be leveraged with federal and state capitalization grants to finance drinking water infrastructure projects.

Approval and issuance of the bonds would provide state-matching funds to the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency to be leveraged with federal capitalization grants to provide low-interest, subsidized loans for local governments to finance approved water pollution abatement projects and to provide low-interest, subsidized loans for local governments and privately organized water suppliers to finance approved drinking water projects.

Proceeds will be used to secure up to $1 million in federal funds to finance approved water pollution abatement and drinking water projects.

South Dakota: A popular referendum for Referred Law 14: An Act to Establish the Large Project Development Fund will appear on the ballot. The referred law would start on Jan. 1, 2013 and would transfer 22 percent of contractors' excise tax revenues from the state general fund to the Large Project Development Fund.

The South Dakota Board of Economic Development would use the money to provide grants for the construction of large economic development projects within the state. To be eligible, a project must have a cost exceeding $5 million.

Examples of eligible projects include laboratories and facilities for testing, manufacturing, power generation, power transmission, agricultural processing, and wind energy.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Funding; Government; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; Wastewater Plants

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