Variety of approaches to transportation governance and finance in the laboratories of democracy

The National Conference of State Legislatures and the AASHTO Center for Excellence in Project Finance recently released a joint study, A 50-State Review of State Legislatures and Departments of Transportation, a valuable resource, which represents the first nationwide comparative review of transportation governance and finance based on original survey research.

The study paints a fascinating portrait of the diversity among states in the structures of, and relationships between, their legislatures and departments of transportation, and the ways that transportation decisions are made.

There is a particularly wide variety of ways in which departments of transportation and legislatures share responsibilities for transportation-related legislation. DOTs in at least 22 states and the District of Columbia can draft, introduce, or request transportation-related legislation. In Wyoming the DOT and the legislature draft transportation-related legislation collaboratively. In Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Missouri, DOT lobbyists formally present DOT positions on legislation, while in Louisiana and Texas the DOT does not lobby the legislature. All state legislatures have a process by which some or all bills are accompanied by details regarding their fiscal impact, but these fiscal notes may be prepared by either a DOT or a legislative fiscal office, with or without DOT input.

The DOT leadership appointment process is another area of great diversity between states. DOT executives may be selected by the governor, the legislature, or, as in Mississippi, by a publicly elected Transportation Commission.

The study details differences and similarities between states in a number of other areas, including setting performance goals, evaluating performance, reporting, state budgeting and appropriations, and the level of legislative involvement with federal transportation funds flowing into the state.