Your TDA
My Perspective
by TDA Executive Director Debby Jackson

I know everyone is tired of talking about the pandemic. It was two-plus years (and counting), and many of us would prefer to put it in the rearview mirror. We want to get back to our lives in February 2020.

However, things are constantly changing, even if there were elements of the recent past that felt like a video loop, a slow-motion video loop. The pandemic changed how people live and work. People moved on, or they retired.

A recent speaking engagement brought the inevitability of change to the forefront for me. Dan Fedderly, the Wisconsin County Highway Association's (WCHA) executive director, asked me to present at the WCHA Spring Commissioner Training Conference. The topic was Your TDA, a title I liked so much that I appropriated it for this article.

He requested that I speak on this topic as opposed to the recently enacted federal infrastructure law or another transportation topic because of the considerable turnover in county highway commissioners in the last few years. Over half of Wisconsin's county highway commissioners have less than five years under their belts, meaning many may not be familiar with the transportation community's prior efforts – from Vote YES for Transportation, the successful campaign to constitutionally protect transportation user fees, to Just Fix It.

Now, this changing of the guard, and not just at WCHA, was not brought on by the pandemic. We have known for a long time that Boomers would be retiring. However, the pandemic did accelerate the pace of retirements. And we are also in the midst of a very hot labor market and the Great Resignation.

The infusion of new people or people in new positions can be a huge asset for the transportation advocacy community. They come with new ideas and possibly different networks. But we must invite them in. That is what Dan did when he gave me the opportunity to introduce TDA to a group of new county highway commissioners.

Growing and maintaining the base is a perennial issue for associations. But never more so than now. Let's follow Dan's lead and invite people to join us. Here are a few easy ideas:
  1. Offer colleagues at your organization the opportunity to receive the TDA newsletter. They can subscribe here, or you can email me a list.
  2. Share TDA's grassroots platform. Anyone can sign up online or by texting TIME to 52886.
  3. Invite TDA to speak at your next meeting.
  4. Encourage engagement by inviting others to join you at a transportation conference, webinar, or meeting – TDA or another organization.

The year is 2022. We are never going back to February 2020. And that is ok as TDA is as relevant today as it was in 1971. This is your TDA.
Around the Nation
Elected Officials Look to Tackle High Gas Prices
Gas prices have come down in recent weeks from the highs of early March. However, prices are still $1-plus more than a year ago. Elevated gas prices have led many elected officials to look at suspending state and federal gas taxes to provide relief at the pump.

In February, six U.S. Senate Democrats, four of whom are up for reelection, introduced legislation to suspend the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax through the end of 2022. Gov. Evers and four other Democratic governors endorsed this proposal in a March 8 letter to congressional leaders. See TDA's statement on the proposed federal gas tax holiday.

TDA began tracking states considering undoing recent increases to the gas tax, skipping inflationary increases, or passing gas tax holidays in January. Inflation, high gas prices, increased funding from the federal infrastructure law, and flush state reserves have contributed to talk about hitting the pause button on gas taxes.

Governors or lawmakers in about 20 states have floated the idea of suspending their state's gas tax. But only three states have enacted gas tax holidays to date:

  • Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill on March 18 authorizing a 30-day gas tax holiday. Maryland's excised tax on gas is 36 cents per gallon for gasoline and approximately 37 cents per gallon for diesel. The cost of the 30-day holiday is estimated at $100 million. Hogan and other Maryland officials have said they may need to extend the holiday beyond 30 days.
  • Georgia: On March 18, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) approved a bill that suspends Georgia's motor fuel excise tax until May 31. The state's tax is about 29 cents per gallon for gasoline and just under 33 cents per gallon for diesel. Kemp says the 10-week holiday will cost $300 million.
  • Connecticut: On March 23, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill with bipartisan support suspending the state's 25-cents-per-gallon motor fuel tax. The measure, which runs from the beginning of April through June, was signed into law by Gov. Ted Lamont (D) less than 24 hours later. The loss of tax revenue for the Special Transportation Fund (STF) will be about $90 million.

In all three states, the loss of user fee revenue will be covered by surplus general funds.

In Florida, a bill passed by the state legislature, but not yet signed into law, includes a one-month gas tax holiday in October, supposedly to avoid giving the break to tourists. Lawmakers are reportedly planning to draw the $200 million in lost revenue from the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The act's prohibition on using ARPA funds, either directly or indirectly, to facilitate state tax cuts has been challenged by several states, with lawsuits working their way through the courts. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) earlier proposed a five-month suspension.

It is unclear if the other state proposals or the federal gas tax holiday will move forward.

At the end of last month, President Biden announced the U.S. will release one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months with the hope of reducing gas prices.
Study Shows Limited Impact of Gas Tax Changes at the Pump
On March 29, the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center (TIAC) released an update of their 2020 report on the impact of changes in state gas tax rates – increases or decreases – on gas prices. An examination of 177 state gas tax changes in 34 states between 2013 and 2021 determined that, on average, just 18 percent of an increase or decrease is passed on in the price of gas in the two weeks following the effective date of a change. This pass-through rate is less than TIAC found in its 2020 study covering 2013-2018 state gas tax changes, which TDA referenced in its blog and factsheet.

The latest report looks specifically at 2021 gas tax rate reductions in New Jersey and Georgia.

“The New Jersey and Georgia cases highlight the negligible effect changing gas tax rates can have on retail gas prices,” ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black said. “That’s why gas tax holidays are not the best policy for rising prices – they take money away from transportation system investment and don’t necessarily stem the pain consumers feel at the pump.”

TDA Gas Tax Facts

With the price at the pump hovering around $4 per gallon, the gas tax has been in the news.

But not many understand how gas taxes are collected and their impact on the price at the pump.

Federal Infrastructure News
Biden Signs Long-Awaited FY 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Bill
On March 15, President Biden signed the fiscal year 2022 omnibus appropriations package. This measure unlocks first-year dollars and new programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) enacted last November.

The bill, along with the advanced appropriations in the IIJA, provides USDOT $141 billion in FY 2022 budgetary resources, an increase of more than 60% over FY 2021. The FY 2022 amount is comprised of regular appropriations ($27 billion), obligation limitation for contract authority programs ($76 billion), mandatory spending ($900 million), and IIJA advanced appropriations ($36.8 billion).

The omnibus sets obligation limitations consistent with the levels in the IIJA to allow for full utilization of the FY 2022 contract authority provided by the infrastructure law. The bill also includes general fund "plus-ups" for airports, highways, and mass transit. Most of this $3.5 billion FY 2022 amount is in $1.5 billion for earmarked projects (view list) and $1.1 billion in extra highway bridge formula money for state DOTs.

Total FY 2022 Budget Authority (including IIJA advance appropriations)

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA): FHWA receives $58.2 billion in usable contract authority (obligation limitation), $9.5 billion in IIJA advanced appropriations, and $2.4 billion more from the general fund. The most significant parts of this last amount are $1.1 billion for another bridge formula program, $847 million for earmarks, and $250 million for PROTECT discretionary grants. In total, FY 2022 budget authority is 43 percent higher than FY 2021.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA): FTA receives $13.4 billion in obligation limitation, $4.3 billion in IIJA advanced appropriations, $2.2 billion for Capital Investment Grants, and $504 million in additional general fund dollars. Overall, FTA FY 2022 budget authority is 58% higher than FY 2021.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): FAA receives $18.5 billion in the omnibus appropriations bill, including $3.35 billion in obligation limitation for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and a supplemental $540 million from the general fund for AIP. The FAA also receives $5 billion in IIJA advanced appropriations in FY 2022. This funding combined provides the FAA an increase of 30-plus percent over FY 2021.

Federal Rail Administration (FRA): FRA receives $13.2 billion in FY 2022 IIJA advanced appropriations and $3.3 billion from the omnibus bill. All in, the FRA budget goes from $2.8 billion in FY 2021 to $16.5 billion in FY 2022. The most sizable increase is in Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grants ($7.1 billion), followed by Amtrak ($1.4 billion Northeast, $3.4 billion national network) and Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements - CRISI grants ($1.3 billion).

Maritime Administration (MARAD): MARAD receives $1.3 billion in the FY 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, including $234 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP). This funding is in addition to the $450 million in FY 2022 IIJA advanced appropriations for PIDP.

Office of the Secretary: The omnibus appropriations bill adds $775 million to the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program. These dollars are on top of the $3.8 billion FY 2022 IIJA advanced appropriations for discretionary grant programs housed at the Office of the Secretary.

Army Corps of Engineers: The omnibus appropriations bill includes $8.3 billion in funding for the civil works (water resources) program of the Army Corps of Engineers, a $547 million increase over last year. The IIJA makes available to the Corps in the first year (FY 2022) $15 billion of the total $17.1 billion provided in the act.

USDOT Announces $2.9 Billion IIJA Multimodal Grant Funding Available
On March 23, U.S Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the availability of $2.9 billion for major infrastructure projects through a combined Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO).

The NOFO incorporates three major discretionary grant programs ꟷ the National Infrastructure Project Assistance (MEGA) program, the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, and the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program (RURAL) ꟷ into the Multimodal Projects Discretionary Grant (MPDG) opportunity. According to the USDOT press release, this streamlining “reduces the burden for state and local applicants and increases the pipeline of ‘shovel-worthy’ projects."

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act created the MEGA and RURAL programs, while the INFRA was an existing competitive grant program expanded by the law.

The application deadline is May 23.

TRIP Report Highlights Need for IIJA Funding, Next Steps
A recent report from TRIP, a national transportation research group, echoes the TDA message on the increased investment in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: it is a shot in the arm but not a silver bullet.

The report looks at the condition, use, and funding of the nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems and provides relevant national and state statistics in the appendix.

As traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels, TRIP finds that 40 percent of the nation's major locally and state-maintained roads are in poor or mediocre condition. In Wisconsin, the percentage of these roads categorized as mediocre or below is 45 percent. TRIP estimates deteriorating roads cost the average U.S. motorist $621 per year, $733 annually for Wisconsin drivers. Additional vehicle operating costs (VOC) include accelerated depreciation because of wear and tear and increased fuel consumption.

Investing in our transportation system is not just about aging roads in bridges. More funding helps address safety and congestion issues and ensures mobility options. Our nation’s transit systems currently rely on vehicles beyond their useful lives. Nationally, the figure is 20 percent, but it is closer to 40% in Wisconsin.

Over five years, the IIJA provides $454 billion in highway, bridge, and transit investment, a 38 percent increase over 2021 levels. But according to TRIP, the nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems remain underfunded despite the increased funding provided by the IIJA.

“Additional federal funding from the IIJA will help the U.S. move forward with needed improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems that will enhance their condition, safety, and efficiency,” said Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director. “Even with this significant boost in funding, the system remains significantly underfunded and will require increased, reliable, and sustained investment to meet the transportation and economic goals of the 21st century.”
Other Transportation News & Resources
Grants, Grants, Grants
Grants are a hot topic, driven at least partly by the sizeable amount of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dollars that will be distributed by competitive grants. Transportation leaders - from Mike Koles, the executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, to Adam Tindall-Schlicht, director of Port Milwaukee and president of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association – have been talking about the need to get ready to compete for these and other grants.

Check out the League of Wisconsin Municipalities April Magazine with its timely focus on grants. Topics covered include: advice on identifying, preparing, and submitting a grant; how to select and work with a grant writer; what to expect from a grant-writing consultant; and more.
TDA Outreach
TDA Podcast: Wisconsin Ports and the IIJA
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is all the news. We hear about the funding for roads, bridges, public transportation, and the transition to electric vehicles. But what about investment in ports and waterways?

Adam Tindall-Schlicht, director of Port Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association president, joins TDA’s Debby Jackson on the latest episode of the On The Go podcast to discuss Wisconsin ports and the opportunities provided by the recently passed infrastructure law.

TDA Blog on Proposed Federal Gas Tax Holiday
In her recent blog, TDA Executive Director Debby Jackson explains that the proposed federal gas tax holiday is unlikely to provide relief at the pump for Wisconsin families, but it would undercut the largest federal source of revenue for public transit and highways.

Jackson recommends Wisconsin focus instead on putting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dollars to work on Wisconsin's well-documented backlog of transportation system repairs and maintenance. Read the blog.
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