From electric vehicles to a surging e-commerce industry, changing social, technological, and economic trends are rapidly shifting the way states must think about the future of transportation funding. The final report from the blue-ribbon NC FIRST Commission released in January of this year and an earlier NC Chamber Foundation-commissioned study compiled by experts at N.C. State’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) found that North Carolina’s motor fuels tax base – the source of most state-funded transportation revenue – is eroding steadily even as construction costs rise and future levels of federal infrastructure support remain in doubt.
Throughout the current legislative session, the NC Chamber’s advocacy team and our aligned partners on the Chamber-led Destination 2030 Coalition have engaged frequently with state leaders, laying out options to address these challenges and championing the importance of cultivating a modernized, 21st century funding strategy. Now as members of the General Assembly move closer to finalizing a state budget and finishing the regular work of the long session, several legislative solutions are emerging as the top contenders to earn passage in 2021.
Proposals we believe are likeliest to pass this session fall largely into three buckets, including those aimed at:
- Redirecting existing transportation-related revenues now feeding into the state’s General Fund – like those from short-term vehicle leases and taxes on transportation goods and services – so they instead flow into the Highway Fund, potentially creating more than $500 million in additional funds to invest into our network each year.
- Adjusting fees on electric vehicles and other vehicle fees to create a more robust transportation fee structure that is equitable for all, including those who currently pay for the majority of network needs through the motor fuels tax.
- Establishing mechanisms to capture revenue from other logical sources that add pressure on our network, like the fast-growing e-commerce industry.
This week, members serving on the NC Chamber’s Transportation Committee were treated to a presentation from the N.C. Railroad Company detailing NCRR’s evolving strategic focus as a state-owned railroad. Major priorities involved attracting investments that help bolster links between railway infrastructure and other transportation assets to better leverage North Carolina’s competitive advantage as a natural hub of East Coast commerce. After the presentation, committee members discussed the severe congestion problems currently straining global shipping and contributing to acute pressures on supply chains here in North Carolina.
Our takeaway from this discussion: North Carolina clearly has both challenges to solve and opportunities to seize if we aim to shape a transportation future that fully supports our continued growth. With a 21st century funding strategy, we can steer confidently in the direction of our choosing; but without one, we might as well be sleeping at the wheel. The NC Chamber and our partners remain committed to advancing modern solutions to fund transportation, now and in future sessions. We feel confident that our elected leaders will show this same commitment to North Carolina’s success.