Transportation Funding: Regional Infrastructure Improvement Zones (RIIZ)
Since the transportation crisis began in Pennsylvania (for our purposes, I’m referring to the denied application to toll I-80) there has been a lot of discussion about ways the state legislature can fill the funding gap. In response to a recent Crossroads post, Lanta Lehigh Valley (Facebook name), commented on the importance of thinking regionally about the issue rather than waiting for the state.
Referring to the possibility of a local taxing authority, they also suggested that, “…local communities may not want either the authority or the burden of deciding between modal investments.” For more on Lanta’s position, read their testimony to the joint meeting of the state’s Transportation and Policy Committees.
The points made by Lanta, started me thinking about other methods that may serve a similar function. I began to look into a joint-effort between the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) and the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC). These two entities have been pushing for legislation that would adjust the current tax code to allow private stakeholders to benefit from contributions made towards transportation infrastructure costs.
From what I understand, the legislation, with Specter (D-PA) committed to sponsorship on the Senate side, is currently on hold, waiting to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Still, it is a proposed model that should be explored as a means of funding transportation needs across the country.
Referred to as Regional Infrastructure Improvement Zones (RIIZ), the idea is that stakeholders within a given region– could be a town, county, or multi-county region– can apply to the local planning authority to qualify for a RIIZ for transportation infrastructure projects. Although the current proposed legislation’s language deals specifically with transportation, the hope is for it to extend to water/waste water infrastructure in the future.
When an application is submitted for a particular project, the planning authority would be responsible for ensuring that there is local support for the project and that the project aligned with the local planning code. Assuming the project meets these criteria, the region would be approved as a RIIZ and stakeholders within that region could make contributions. These donations would be tax-deductible contributions.
OKI and NARC offer this as an example of RIIZs in action:
On one corner is a local bank, another is a department store while the third and fourth corners house an office building and a gas station. Each of these corporations, in concert with their local government, can apply to their [Municipal Planning Organization] for RIIZ status in order to add a turn lane, sidewalk, or bus stop that will enhance business and job opportunities. Membership in these Zones are not limited to businesses, individuals may also join. As with any donation to a charitable cause the RIIZ will issue individuals a receipt indicating the amount of their contribution as well as the date received. The contributing business or individual could then deduct the amount of their donation from the income taxes.
If you interested in the specific proposed changes to the IRS tax code, you can find the existing IRS code here and a draft of proposed adjustments here. For more information on RIIZs, check out this FAQ sheet, and this fact sheet. One of the things that a RIIZ can accomplish is giving ‘teeth’ to the municipal planning codes in a region.
Especially at a time when we are in desperate need of alternative means of transportation funding, RIIZ has the potential to give power to the municipal planning codes as the local planning authority must base their decision on the proposal’s adherence to the code.
The Lehigh Valley is fortunate to have a regional planning commission and a well-written comprehensive plan. However, there is no better illustration of the advisory nature of the commission, the Comprehensive Plan, and Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Codes in general, than this morning’s story in the Morning Call regarding Lower Macungie and their zoning revisions. Jon Geeting of Lehigh Valley Independent explains this specific issue in his latest post.
The existence of RIIZ legislation would make LVPC’s objections worthy of more than a “We appreciate their comments,” as stated by Lower Macungie Manager, Bruce Fosselman.
Citiwire, where Mark Muro and Rob Puentes highlight the importance of NOT waiting for federal or state help in “critical priorities”;
The Atlantic, an article by Christopher Leinberger about the importance of financing multimodal transit in urban areas and its relationship to housing and economic sustainability.