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Voters Split on Transportation Funding in Louisiana, Maryland and Wisconsin

Constitutional protections for transportation money passed with overwhelming margins in Maryland and Wisconsin, but a bid to create an infrastructure bank in Louisiana failed again.

As voters in Maryland and Wisconsin elected Republican governors Tuesday, they also rejected a budget-balancing gimmick used by those candidates’ Democratic predecessors: Raiding transportation funds for general expenses.

Constitutional amendments to protect transportation money -- generated by fuel taxes and motor registration fees -- from future raids passed in Maryland by 82 percent and in Wisconsin by 80 percent.

Both parties’ gubernatorial candidates supported the ballot measures in both states, and there was little organized opposition to the proposals.

But the new protections still carried political overtones.

Freshly re-elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker won his first of three gubernatorial campaigns in 2010 while criticizing then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, for taking transportation money to pay for other priorities.

Three separate times between 2003 and 2011, the legislature dipped into those funds for a total of $1.4 billion, although much of that money was later repaid through bond proceeds. After Walker took office, the Republican-led legislature advanced a constitutional amendment to make sure it didn't happen again, which appeared before voters Tuesday as Question 1.

Under Walker, the flow of money reversed, as legislators directed general funds into the transportation account.

In Maryland, Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan upset Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, in part, by tying him to the policies of fellow Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Under O’Malley, state lawmakers took more than $1 billion out of transportation funds to balance the budget. The amendment passed Tuesday will only allow the protected money to be used for non-transportation related items if the governor declared a fiscal emergency and both chambers of the General Assembly approved the transfers by a three-fifths vote.

Another proposal to maximize existing transportation dollars fell flat in Louisiana. More than two-thirds of voters rejected the idea of creating a state infrastructure bank.

Supporters of Amendment 4 wanted to use the infrastructure bank to let localities borrow money from the bank, which would be cheaper and less onerous than preparing a bond issue. The failed proposal would have cleared the way for lawmakers to set up the infrastructure bank, but would not have created it on its own. Voters had previously rejected a measure to directly create an infrastructure bank.

The defeat is a setback for transportation advocates in Louisiana, who wanted to improve the state’s infrastructure in a way that would pass muster with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has opposed tax increase proposals.

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