FILE - NY highway, train

Heavy traffic backs up on the Williamsburg Bridge during rush hour in New York City in 2016. The bridge connects Lower Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn.

(The Center Square) – With a sizable chunk of its income stream going toward mass transit, New York ranked first in a recently published analysis of states diverting gas tax revenues toward projects beyond roadwork.

Researchers with the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, delved into the amount of gas tax revenues states use toward infrastructure maintenance and improvements. The findings were compiled into a policy brief.

The analysis revealed exactly half of states across the country allocated at least a percentage of gas tax revenues toward other initiatives, including bicycle and pedestrian projects, law enforcement and education.

According to the full report, 37.5 percent of New York’s gas tax revenue went toward fortifying mass transit in fiscal year 2018.

The state brought in $1.6 billion in gas tax income that year. On the expense side, $1 billion went toward a dedicated bridge and trust fund and the balance of $600 million was funneled toward mass transit, with the bulk – $494 million – earmarked for New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In the analysis, Baruch Feigenbaum, senior managing director of transportation policy with the Reason Foundation, called on lawmakers in New York and other states to reconsider the practice of diverting these funds for projects beyond roadway improvements.

“By violating the users-pay/users-benefit principle, diversion poses both immediate and long-term threats to transportation funding,” Feigenbaum wrote. “Diversions can leave roads and highways underfunded.”

Fortifying highways and roadways has been a discussion point among New York lawmakers in recent years. In early 2019, the wraps were taken off a report detailing the state’s needs for roads, bridges and water systems. An Assembly Minority Task Force had been meeting to examine the depth of the state’s infrastructure needs.

“What we learned strongly reinforces the undeniable reality that New York’s statewide and local transportation infrastructure faces critical deficiencies that demand our attention and action,” Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, said in a statement.

Summing up the findings, Palmesano, co-chair of the task force, said solutions to the state’s infrastructure needs “will require continued cooperation on targeted legislation, strategic planning and, especially, investment.”

In the road ahead, Feigenbaum in the policy brief called on lawmakers in states prone to diverting gas tax revenues to consider legislation ended or curtailing the practice.

“States could enact legislation or constitutional amendments that prevent diversions of gas tax revenue in the first place,” Feigenbaum said. “Georgia’s constitution, for example, restricts the use of motor fuel tax revenue to roads and bridges for construction, maintenance and funding.”

The Reason Foundation’s findings did not draw a clear partisan correlation to the states most frequently drawing on gas tax revenues. States with Democrat and Republican strongholds and governing leadership each showed up on the list.

Texas, which ranked No. 7 on the list, actually diverted the largest dollar amount of its gas tax revenues in its 2018 fiscal year – $900 million – though the appropriation represented 24 percent of the overall $3.67 billion funding source.

Other top states included Rhode Island (diverting 37.1 percent, or $58 million), Michigan (33.9 percent, $770 million), New Jersey (33.9 percent, $360 million) and Maryland (32.5 percent, $365 million).