Both Missouri and Arkansas expressed concerns Dec. 2 that their states will not be able to provide the required matching funds in order to receive federal highway money as laid out in the surface transportation bill, “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or FAST Act, signed into law on Dec. 4. Other states, including Tennessee and Rhode Island, warned that the increased federal funds will still not be sufficient to cover all of their transportation revenue needs.
Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Scott Bennett told Arkansas Highway Commission members at a Dec. 2 meeting that the state will not have enough transportation revenue to match the $250 million increase in federal funds allocated by the FAST Act for highway improvements. With 80 percent of state highway projects funded with federal revenue and 20 percent required by the state, Arkansas would need approximately $50 million more per year in order to fully take advantage of the new funds. Any unmatched funds would be returned to the federal government.
Recognizing the state’s need for additional transportation revenue, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) appointed a committee earlier this year to examine new ways to increase highway funding for the state. Gov. Hutchinson will have a response to the committee’s recommendations in the next few weeks.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) on Dec. 2 conveyed warnings from the Missouri Department of Transportation that the state would not have sufficient revenue to match the new federal funding amounts. “We have been a state that has benefited because we have lots of roads, and the formulas have benefited Missouri. That will go away and we will be getting less than we paid in if Missouri doesn’t have its matching share,” McCaskill said.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) cautioned that the state still needs to consider a proposal to tax truck drivers on state bridges. Raimondo told The Providence Journal on Dec. 7, “We are going to run the numbers and see what this means for Rhode Island in increased funding, but it is clearly not enough to cover all of our infrastructure needs. So yes, we still need to proceed on the state level. And a prerequisite for this money is that the state needs to do its part.”
Tennessee Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Paul Degges during a Dec. 4 budget hearing stated that the federal bill “is going to help us.” “The federal side is fixed now. Our concern is with state dollars. Our state dollars are flat and will remain flat. The federal money requires a 20 percent match. So there’s that pressure,” Degges said.
A poll released by Vanderbilt University later that day on Dec. 4 found a majority of Tennessee residents would accept a modest gas tax increase to fund transportation improvements. Of the 1,013 registered voters surveyed, 66 percent stated they would be comfortable with a 2 cents-per-gallon increase, 54 percent would support an 8 cents-per-gallon increase, and 46 percent would support a 15 cents-per-gallon increase. (View the poll questions—starting on page 17— here and results here.)