Crafting messages for funding system preservation

By Beth Kanter
Infrastructure is oblivious to shrinking budgets. Faced with decreasing dollars, state departments of transportation are forced to make difficult decisions about how to spend limited transportation funds. But voters understand how hard it is to make choices between competing priorities. They understand that you can’t build an addition onto a house when you can’t afford to fix the roof. To translate this into a transportation analogy – you can’t build new roads when infrastructure is in bad condition. Voters want government to invest in strategies that will spur economic development and create jobs. There is a strong case that repair and maintenance can do both.
Iowa’s roads are in poor condition; the state ranks 31st in state highway performance and cost-effectiveness. Iowa’s infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Based on road roughness, it has ranked 43rd in urban interstate condition and 34th in deficient bridges.
The Iowa DOT forecast an annual revenue shortfall of $215 million. As a result of this shortfall, the DOT said there would be an increased number of bridges with weight restrictions and bridge closures; deteriorating conditions across the system – including high-level roads critical to the movement of goods and people; increased costs to transportation providers and users; and potential economic losses to the state.
How do you communicate this pressing issue to the legislature and to voters? The Iowa DOT, in conjunction with the governor-appointed Citizen Advisory Commission, conducted seven public input meetings throughout the state. In addition to the public meetings, Spitfire Strategies undertook a range of research activities to better understand the impact of failing infrastructure and gauge public support and opposition to a gas tax increase, including:

  • Analyzing state news coverage of the potential gas tax increase;
  • Reviewing stories about the state of Iowa’s infrastructure;
  • Interviewing key stakeholders;
  • Attending community meetings; and
  • Analyzing state polling on a gas tax increase and national polling on voter sentiments about transportation funding.

Based on the research and the public meetings, Spitfire and the Iowa DOT developed compelling messages to move the issue forward.
To learn more about the strategy, tactics, and what ultimately happened in Iowa, join Spitfire Strategies and the Iowa Department of Transportation for a webinar on Tuesday, May 29, at 11:00 AM Central (Noon Eastern) to learn how they worked with SSTI to make the case for a fix-it-first approach to transportation policy. Learn how they crafted effective messages that would resonate with policymakers and key stakeholders in Iowa’s effort to pass an increase in the gas tax to fund critical repair and maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.
Beth Kanter is a Vice President at Spitfire Strategies. She can be reached