Tennessee Counties Get A Local Infrastructure Fast Track

Tennessee just increased their gas tax – and that state is sharing its additional transportation revenue with its counties. Last week, Governor Bill Haslam signed the Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act – which is estimated to provide $250 million to the State Department of Transportation, $35 million to cities, and $70 million to counties.

The Act also grants the state’s most populated counties the authority to approve additional tax increases for local transportation projects, if approved by referendum. According to The Tennessean:

Twelve of the state’s most populous counties will be allowed to hold a referendum to ask their residents if they would approve additional tax increases to help pay for transportation projects, including mass transit. If voters approved the referendum, the taxes that local governments could raise are: sales tax, business tax, car rental tax, hotel/motel tax, residential development tax and wheel tax.

Additional surcharges enacted would be capped at 20 percent of the current rate.

Any proposed projects funded by the additional surcharges would be subject to an audit by the state’s comptroller, who would need to sign off on the plan in advance.

Overall, the IMPROVE Act increases the state’s gas tax from 21.4 cents per gallon by six cents per gallon over three years. Diesel taxes increase by 10 cents over three years.  The IMPROVE Act also increases some vehicle registration fees and offsets the impact on its residents’ wallets by decreasing other taxes.

Haslam and others have argued every area in the state will see their projects funded through the bill, and the measure will prevent local governments from using alternative means, such as increasing property taxes, to pay for needed improvements.

Tennessee counties own 64 percent of the State’s public road miles and receive 20 percent of the state’s transportation funding, according to data from 2014 provided by the National Association of Counties. In comparison, Maryland’s counties (excluding Baltimore City) own 69 percent of the public roads, and receive 1.4 percent of highway user revenues. When the Maryland General Assembly increased the gas tax five years ago via the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, none of those new revenues funded local roads and bridges – all of that money funds the Maryland Department of Transportation.

New “Textalyzer” Catches Distracted Drivers Phone-handed

New technology may help law enforcement catch motorists “phone-handed” who text while driving. The new “textalyzer” technology would allow law enforcement to determine whether a driver texted when behind the wheel, particularly immediately before an accident.

For law enforcement to get phone records, they must acquire a warrant first – but the textalyzer would not require this time-consuming step, reports NPR. From the story:

“Phone records — as I found out the hard way — they’re tough to get [and] it’s an agonizing process,” says Ben Lieberman of New Castle, N.Y., whose 19-year-old son was killed in a car crash in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City, in 2011. ….

“We often hear, ‘just get a warrant’ or ‘just get the phone records. … The implication is that the warrant is like filling out some minor form,” he says. “It’s not. In New York, it involves a D.A. and a judge. Imagine getting a D.A. and a judge involved in every breathalyzer that’s administered, every sobriety test that’s administered.”

Leiberman filed a civil lawsuit to subpoena the phone records, which showed the driver had been texting before the crash. But even getting the phone records won’t tell you much, he says. “It doesn’t detect any of the important distractions, like email, social media or web browsing.”

So even though New York and most other states ban texting and other kinds of cellphone use while driving, Lieberman says those laws are difficult to enforce.

“The takeaway is, our current law is a joke,” he says.

Liberman may have found an answer to the problem. He co-founded Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs), an advocacy group working with developers to create the textalyzer. A police officer can simply plug it into a driver’s phone, press a button, and within seconds download relevant phone activity, including a summary of what apps on the phone were open and in use, as well as screen taps and swipes. In New York, a bill authorizing textalyzer use has passed out of one committee and is pending in another.

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The device does not download content, reports the device’s developers – but even so, some have concerns about its overreach.

“Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender,” says Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information — so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties.”

Distracted driving is, without question, a serious concern. Traffic fatalities are on the rise, and many attribute distracted driving as a likely contributor. Fatalities nationwide increased by six percent last year, or 40,000. Yesterday, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Pete K. Rahn issued a “call-to-action” to eliminate highway fatalities in Maryland.  Preliminary data collected by MDOT indicates that in 2016, 523 people died in traffic crashes on the state’s roads, up from the 521 who died in 2015. According to the MDOT Highway Safety Office’s Toward Zero Deaths campaign, 185 people die every year in Maryland from distracted driving crashes, and more than 27,000 more are injured.

 

President’s Budget No Boon For Local Infrastructure

Despite much-touted plans for investment in infrastructure, President Trump’s proposed budget only depletes opportunities for Maryland counties to benefit from important transportation funding opportunities.

Transportation for America, an organization advocating for investment in “in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions,” reports that the President’s proposal cuts funding for new transit lines, including the Purple Line. It also eliminates the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, one of only a few programs which makes Federal transportation funds available directly to counties for specific infrastructure projects. It also terminates funding for long-distance passenger rail lines.

The President’s budget eliminates funding for building new transit lines – presumably including the Purple Line. Transportation for America reports:

This budget eliminates future funding for building new public transportation lines and service, threatening the ability of local communities of all sizes to satisfy the booming demand for well-connected locations served by transit. While the handful of projects with full federal funding grant agreements (FFGAs) already in hand would (theoretically) be allowed to proceed, all other future transit projects would be out of luck. The budget proposes to phase out future funding for what’s called the transit capital investment grants program — more informally referred to as New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity grants.

The Purple Line does not yet have its FFGA, placing the project’s projected $900 million in federal funds at grave risk. The FFGA was scheduled to be signed on August 4, 2016, but litigation delayed its execution.  According to the Administration’s budget proposal:

Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.

The budget also eliminates the TIGER program. The fiercely competitive TIGER program funds innovative projects, including multi-modal projects, which leverage partnerships between multiple jurisdictions and the private sector. The program has brought at least $40 million in federal infrastructure investment to Maryland, including $10 million each for:

  • bus rapid transit along 14 miles of US 29 in Montgomery,
  • multimodal road improvements through the MD 175 Fort Meade Multimodal Accessibility Project in Anne Arundel,
  • Port of Baltimore enhancements including capacity expansion and construction of a rail intermodal facility, and
  • most recently, the North Avenue Rising project, which improves five miles along North Avenue in Baltimore City with dedicated bus lanes, roadway repaving, transit signal priority installation, enhanced bus stops, sidewalk improvements, bike share stations, bike lanes, and a subway station and intersection improvements.

 

The Administration’s budget proposal also cuts funding to Amtrak, and “terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services.”

About Transportation for America:

Transportation for America is an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions — because these are the investments that hold the key to our future economic prosperity.

Study Finds Freshwater Lakes at Risk From Road Salt

A Sustainable City Network article (2017-04-19) reported that many Midwestern and Northeastern lakes are seeing increases in their salt levels based on the application of road salt to nearby streets and highways. The finding is based on a recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which examined 371 freshwater lakes larger than 4 hectares and with at least 10 years of previous recorded chloride data.

The study found that 44 percent of sampled lakes are undergoing long-term salinization. The study was conducted by the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) Fellowship Program. From the article:

Lead author Hilary Dugan, a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Postdoctoral Fellow, explains, “We compiled long-term data, and compared chloride concentrations in North American lakes and reservoirs to climate and land use patterns, with the goal of revealing whether, how, and why salinization is changing across broad geographic scales. The picture is sobering. For lakes, small amounts of shoreline development translate into big salinization risks.” …

Since the 1940s, the use of road salt to keep winter roads navigable has been escalating. Each year, some 23 million metric tons of sodium chloride-based deicer is applied to North America’s roads to melt away snow and ice. Much of this road salt washes into nearby water bodies, where it is recognized as a major source of chloride pollution to groundwater, streams, rivers, and lakes.

To gauge road salt exposure, the research team assessed road density and land cover within a 100- to 1,500-meter buffer around each of the 371 study lakes. Roadways and impervious surfaces such as parking lots and sidewalks are reliable proxies for road salt application because as developed areas, they are susceptible to high levels of salting and runoff.

Results were clear: roads and other impervious surfaces within 500 meters of a lake’s shoreline were a strong predictor of elevated chloride concentrations. In the North American Lakes Region, 70 percent (94 out of 134) of lakes with more than 1 percent impervious land cover in their 500-meter buffer zone had increasing chloride trends. When results are extrapolated to all lakes in the North American Lakes Region, some 7,770 lakes may be at risk of rising salinity.

The article noted that high chloride levels can negatively affect a lake’s animal and plant ecosystem, resulting in a decline in species richness and abundance and also create low oxygen conditions that kill aquatic life and degrade water quality. In response to the findings, the study’s authors call for better shoreline management and lake monitoring practices:

The study’s authors recommend that best lake management practices recognize that shoreline management extends well beyond a lake’s perimeter. While many states and municipalities acknowledge the importance of shoreline management, they note that zoning regulations are often only enforced within 300 meters, and many lakes lack the monitoring programs needed to adequately track lake health.

Coauthor and Fellowship advisor Kathleen Weathers, an ecosystem scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and co-chair of GLEON, comments, “In the North American Lakes Region – where road salt is a reality – roads and other impervious surfaces within 500 meters of a lake’s shoreline are a recipe for salinization. We need to manage and monitor lakes to ensure they are kept ‘fresh’ and protect the myriad of services they provide, from fisheries and recreation to drinking water supplies.”

A lake’s chloride status may also provide a window into the ecological health of its watershed. Co-author Samantha Burke, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, adds, “Unlike flowing streams and rivers, water resides in lakes for long periods of time. This makes them vulnerable to pollution from their watersheds and good early warning indicators of environmental disruption.

Useful Links

GLEON Website

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Road Salt Issues

DLS 90 Day Report: Local Aid

The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) has released its annual summary of the legislative session, The 90 Day Report – A Review of the 2017 Legislative SessionThe report is divided into 12 parts, each dealing with a major policy area. It also includes information relating to the final operating and capital budgets, including aid to local governments – and a breakdown of aid to each county. 

County level detail of state aid is available here.

DLS lists “Direct Aid” to counties in two groups: Primary and Secondary Education, and all other aid programs. A full breakdown of all programs is available here: Total State Aid to Local Governments (Exhibit A-3.5)

This blog post directs readers to sections of the 90 Day Report which describe all other aid programs.

Libraries

This item includes the Library Formula and Library Network programs. The Report discusses funding for Local Libraries, including the Library Aid Program, for which the State funds 40 percent and counties fund 60 percent:

The State/local share of the minimum program varies by county depending on local wealth. The per resident amount is set at $15.00 for fiscal 2018 and is scheduled to increase to $16.70 annually, beginning in fiscal 2022. Fiscal 2018 funding totals $37.7 million, a $1.3 million increase compared to fiscal 2017. In addition, Baltimore City will receive $3.0 million to support expanded operations throughout the library system.

The State also provides funds through the Library Network program to libraries designated as resource centers and regional resource centers.

Community Colleges

This item includes the Community College Formula (Cade), Grants for English as a Second Language (ESOL) Programs, Optional Retirement, Small College Grants, and Other Community College Aid.

The Report discusses community colleges, which receive $235.2 million in fiscal 2018 through the Senator John A. Cade Formula, an increase of $779,600 over fiscal 2017 funding. In addition, the budget includes $4 million for one-time supplemental grants, to be divided among all 16 community colleges based on Cade funding formula-eligible enrollment. Also,

State funding in fiscal 2018 will total $4.1 million for the small college grants and $600,000 for the Allegany/Garrett counties unrestricted grants. Senate Bill 521 (passed) increases unrestricted grants to small colleges by approximately $1.7 million annually, beginning in fiscal 2019. Funding for statewide and regional programs will total $6.4 million. The English as a Second Language Program will receive $5.5 million, nearly level with the prior year.

Health Formula Grant

Local health departments receive $51.1 million, which level-funds the departments at fiscal 2017 levels, and provides an additional $1.6 million for increases in contractual health insurance costs in certain counties.

Transportation

Transportation aid listed in DLS’ county breakdowns includes highway user revenues to both the county and its municipalities, special transportation grants to both the county and its municipalities, elderly /disabled transportation grants, and paratransit grants.

In highway user revenues (HUR), $140.8 million (7.7% of HUR) is distributed to Baltimore City; $27.4 million (1.5%) is distributed to counties; and $7.3 million (0.4%) is distributed to municipalities, for a total of $175.5 million. The budget also provides special transportation grants to counties and municipalities of $38.4 million – $5.5 million for Baltimore City, $12.8 million for counties, and $20.1 million for municipalities. In addition, local governments receive $4.3 million in elderly /disabled transportation grants, and $1.7 million in paratransit grants.

Additional information on local transportation aid is available within the Report here.

Police and Public Safety

Police and public safety aid listed in DLS’ county breakdowns includes aid provided to municipalities, as well as the county.

The State fiscal 2018 budget level funds the police aid formula at the fiscal 2017 level of $73.7 million. In addition, State funding for targeted public safety grants will total $26.6 million in fiscal 2018. The Report details a handful of public safety grant programs available to local governments, including:

  • The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Fund, which funds grants for investigating Internet crimes against children ($2 million);
  • The Community Program Fund, which funds local government community and violence intervention programs ($500,000); and
  • The Vehicle Theft Prevention Fund, which enhances the prosecution and adjudication of vehicle theft crimes ($1.9 million).

This item may also include other grants, State’s Attorney’s Grants, and 9-1-1 Grants. 9-1-1 Emergency Systems Grants reimburse counties for improvements and enhancements to their 9-1-1 systems and are funded at $14.4 million.

Fire and Rescue Aid

Fire and rescue aid listed in DLS’ county breakdowns includes aid provided to municipalities, as well as the county. The Senator William H. Amoss Fire, Rescue, and Ambulance Fund, for local and volunteer fire, rescue, and ambulance services, is funded at $15 million.

Recreation and Natural Resources

According to the Report, the local share of Program Open Space (POS) funding changes in fiscal 2018:

Chapter 10 of 2016 altered the local share of POS funding beginning in fiscal 2018. The legislation allocated an additional $11.0 million to local funding for fiscal 2018. In future years, local funding through fiscal 2029 increases overall due to general fund appropriations to the transfer tax special fund (from which the local share of POS receives funding) representing reimbursement for prior transfers from the fund. In fiscal 2018, the POS formula allocates $37.2 million to the counties, which is an increase of $15.5 million over the fiscal 2017 amount. In addition, Baltimore City will receive $3.5 million in special POS funding.

The Report further details Program Open Space funding here.

Also, $7 million is included for the Department of the Environment to provide grants to local governments to provide enhanced nutrient removal at wastewater treatment facilities.

Disparity Grants

Disparity grants were level-funded by the Governor, then partially restored for some counties by the General Assembly. From the Report:

Disparity grants were initiated to address the differences in the abilities of counties to raise revenues from the local income tax, which is one of the larger revenue sources for counties. Counties with per capita local income tax revenues less than 75.0% of the statewide average receive grants, assuming that all counties impose a 2.54% local tax rate. Chapter 487 of 2009 capped each county’s funding under the program at the fiscal 2010 level. Chapter 425 further modified the program in order to provide a floor funding level in conjunction with the fiscal 2010 cap for an eligible county based on the income tax rate of that county. Beginning in fiscal 2014, an eligible county or Baltimore City may receive no more than the amount distributed in fiscal 2010 or a minimum of (1) 20.0% of the total grant if the local income tax rate is at least 2.8% but less than 3.0%; (2) 40.0% of the total grant if the rate is at least 3.0% but less than 3.2%; or (3) 60.0% of the total grant if the rate is set at 3.2%. The fiscal 2017 budget included $136.7 million in disparity grant funding; however, the Board of Public Works reduced total disparity grant funding to $132.8 million for fiscal 2017.

… Chapter 738 of 2016 altered the calculation of the Disparity Grant program for counties with a local income tax rate of 3.2% by increasing the minimum grant amount (funding floor) to 67.5% of the formula calculation in both fiscal 2018 and 2019. However, House Bill 152, modifies the formula by lowering the minimum grant amount (funding floor) from 67.5% to 63.75% of the formula calculation for fiscal 2018. Due to this action, funding for disparity grants will total $138.8 million in fiscal 2018.

Teachers Retirement Supplemental Grant

Grants totalling $27.7 million are distributed annually to nine counties to help offset the impact of sharing teachers’ retirement costs with the counties.

Gaming Impact Aid

From the proceeds generated by video lottery terminals at video lottery facilities in the State, generally 5.5% is distributed to local governments in which a video lottery facility is operating. … In addition, 5.0% of table game revenues are distributed to local jurisdictions where a video lottery facility is located. Gaming impact grants total $91.4 million in fiscal 2018, an increase of $24.6 million, or 36.9%, over fiscal 2017 levels, due to the opening of a casino in Prince George’s County in December 2016.

 

Other Direct Aid

Other direct aid may include aid from other programs such as those listed below, which are described in the Report:

Through the Maryland Forest Service and Maryland Park Service – Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Program, counties receive 15 percent of the net revenues derived from their state forest or park land – in fiscal 2018, Forest Service payments to local governments total $282,900 and Park Service payments to local governments total $2.6 million.

The Senior Citizen Activities Center Operating Fund, a grant program through the Department of Aging for senior citizen activities centers, receives $764,000.

The Strategic Demolition Fund provides funding to assist with demolition, land assembly, housing development or redevelopment, and revitalization. Funding is awarded on a competitive basis to local governments and community development organizations. It receives $25.6 million, but $22.1 million is targeted for Baltimore City.

2017 End of Session Wrap-Up: Highway User Revenues

Below is a brief overview of MACo’s work to restore county roads funding that was cut during the Great Recession.  

Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database

Highway User Revenues

The General Assembly maintained an additional $8.8 million in additional local transportation aid to be allocated among 23 counties. For more than forty years, local governments have received at least 30 percent of these revenues to fund local roads and bridges – 83 percent of the public road mileage in Maryland. In 2010, the State reduced highway user revenues by 90 percent for most jurisdictions – and local governments have advocated for restored highway user revenues ever since.

Push Icons-WONThe General Assembly’s action this year to provide counties some relief connotes a small step, but marked improvement over prior years. See MACo’s coverage, including a County-by-County Breakdown of Additional Local Transportation Aid

 

This year, as in years past, MACo continued to support legislation that would fully restore highway user revenues to their previous levels. As in recent years, however, the General Assembly did not advance these bills.

Push Icons-NOT IDEALSenate Bill 586/House Bill 1322 “Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act,” a MACo initiative for the legislative session, did not pass out of committee in either chamber. Bill Information | MACo Coverage

 

 

Push Icons-NOT IDEALHouse Bill 552, a bill to restore highway user revenues to local governments, ensure that new gas tax revenues resulting from Chapter 429 of 2013 are shared equitably with local governments, and amend the Maryland Constitution to prevent depletion of highway user revenues from local governments in the future did not move out of committee. Bill Information | MACo Testimony

Push Icons-NOT IDEALSenate Bill 161, a bill to phase in restoration of highway user revenues to counties over seven years did not move out of committee. Introducing the bill, its sponsor Senator Steve Waugh expressed the need to “find an affordability trigger” to move the restoration forward – an element that has not been present in other similar proposals in recent years. Bill Information | MACo Coverage

Transportation Funding Decisions

The subject of transportation funding decisions has become a contentious debate between the Governor’s Administration and the General Assembly. MACo tracks this issue as it relates to local roads funding and advocates for the decision process that supports county government efficiency and effectiveness.

Push Icons-WONVoicing concerns about the scorecard legislation passed in 2016, MACo supported House Bill 402/Senate Bill 307 the Governor’s “Road Kill Bill Repeal” – advocating for either repeal or replacement. The General Assembly passed the legislation in an amended form that clarifies that the use of scoring from the statutory system will be purely advisory, while a designated work group convenes to consider refinements to its elements and effects.  Bill Information | MACo Coverage

Click here for a round up of the wrap-ups for all policy areas

2017 End of Session Wrap-Up: Vehicle Laws

Below is a brief overview of MACo’s work to preserve local authority over enforcement of vehicle laws in the 2017 General Assembly. 

Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database

MACo successfully negotiated amendments to prevent a bill from narrowing local enforcement options for plug-in vehicle parking. In its original form, Senate Bill 302/House Bill 36 would have created a statewide scheme for enforcing parking spaces set aside for plug-in electric drive vehicles. Through discussions with MACo, the bill sponsor agreed to offer amendments that would address MACo’s concerns. Ultimately, the legislation did not pass this year, but if it returns, it will likely include MACo’s amendments upon introduction. Bill Information | MACo Testimony

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo stopped a bill that would have precluded local governments from any increase in parking fines or penalties until at least 30 days after the parking ticket has been issued. Senate Bill 136 was recommitted to its committee and did not advance to passage. Bill Information | MACo Coverage

 

Push Icons-NOT IDEALMACo supported legislation to authorize certain counties to regulate and permit heavy-weight vehicles on their own roads. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 640/House Bill 930 did not advance out of committee in either chamber. Bill Information | MACo Coverage

 

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo stopped a bill that would have required jurisdictions owning roads in school zones where the speed limit is at least 35 miles per hour to place traffic signals at all marked crosswalks. MACo encouraged the Committee to consider amending SB 865 to authorize – rather than require – installation of the subject traffic signals. Ultimately, the legislation died in committee. Bill Information | MACo Coverage

Click here for a round up of the wrap-ups for all policy areas

2017 End of Session Wrap-Up: Public Works

MACo seeks to protect the ability of Maryland counties and municipalities to maintain water, wasterwater and other public works infrastructure. The segments below provide a brief overview of MACo’s public works advocacy in the 2017 General Assembly. 

Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo sucessfully opposed Senate Bill 546/House Bill 228, a bill that would dramatically limit the ability of a government to terminate water service for nonpayment. This legislation did not advance out of committe in either chamber. Bill Information | MACo Coverage

 

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo successfully advocated against a bill that would have required county providers of water, wastewater, and stormwater services to cap service charges for customers who meet certain income thresholds, verify those customers’ financial situations to confirm benefit eligibility, and analyze those customers’ bills to confirm they are receiving the smallest bills possible, among a number of other onerous requirements. HB 918 received an unfavorable report from the House Environment and Transportation Committee. Bill Information | MACo Testimony

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo successfully worked to stopped a bill that would have deprived counties of the opportunity to use an effective tool for enforcement – tax sale – to enforce liens for unpaid water, sewer, or sanitary system charges for a period of one year. House Bill 453 passed the House but did not advance through its Senate committee. Bill Information | MACo Testimony

Click here for a round up of the wrap-ups for all policy areas

Post: Another Purple One Passing

The Purple Line may be a on a path to nowhere, opines the editorial board of The Washington PostBetween the last-minute setback last summer by the U.S. District Court, which postponed project implementation to require federal transit officials to reexamine ridership data, and the Trump Administration’s apparent reluctance to invest in transit, it seems the line may be grasping for a lifeline.

From the editorial:

After a quarter-century of planning, several hundred million dollars in public money, scores of public hearings and endless studies, the Purple Line, one of the Washington area’s most important transit projects, may be facing extinction. If that happens, it would be a testament to dysfunction, inertia and judicial negligence. …

With every passing day, the Purple Line’s prospects are dimming. The federal funding agreement frozen in August by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon was the project’s linchpin; without it, a multibillion-dollar public-private partnership cannot go forward, and investors who were ready to start building are stuck.

Without a green light now from Mr. Leon, it may be all but impossible to revive the federal funding agreement for the foreseeable future. That’s because the Trump administration has proposed halting all cash for transit projects that lack signed funding agreements, starting almost immediately and lasting for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Beyond that, there is no sign that the Trump administration is interested in improving the United States’ transit networks. To the contrary, the administration’s current stance suggests indifference toward transportation projects that don’t serve automobiles. …

Fundamentally, the Purple Line makes sense as a transportation link for tens of thousands of daily riders who head to Bethesda, Silver Spring and College Park every workday. It makes sense as an economic catalyst for the region, which is why it has attracted significant private funding. Without the federal contribution, the Purple Line is dead, and so is a cornerstone of rational urban planning in the national capital region.

Bringing BABs Back: Will Trump Revive Build America Bonds?

Build America Bonds (BABs) may make a resurgence. This Recession-era infrastructure financing program provided state and local governments access to taxable bonds, along with a subsidy from the federal government of 35 percent of the interest payments – bringing the net cost closer to that of more traditional, tax-exempt municipal bonds.

Governing reports that interest has been expressed in the financing tool by economic advisors to President Trump, who has pledged to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure – purportedly at least in part through encouraging private investment. BABs would open up the municipal market to new private investors. From Governing:

All told, state and local governments sold more than $151 billion in BABs between 2009 and 2010. The program even propelled total bond issuance in 2010 to $433 billion, a record that still holds today.

Unfortunately, the last time around, mandated cutbacks in federal appropriations in 2013 resulted in decimating program subsidies by seven to nine percent. In addition, the bonds were not eligible for refinancing – leaving some jurisdictions on the hook for higher interest rates than they would have had under traditional tax-exempt municipal bonds. Governing quotes Dan White, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics:

[The feds] could theoretically design a program that protects states against this. But states know this has the potential to be changed at a moment’s notice by policymakers in Washington.