DeMint Introduces Transportation Empowerment Act
Legislation gives states control of highway funding, flexibility to innovate
Today, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act. The bill reforms a bloated federal highway program by devolving federal highway and mass transit projects and their funding sources to the states, allowing them to determine their own transportation priorities.
"The national interstate highway system was completed years ago, and it's time for us to empower states to make their own transportation decisions," said Senator DeMint. "The highway funding process has lost its focus, with the majority of dollars going to earmarks for state and local projects that serve no national purpose. States send their road funds to Washington, and then have to fight tooth and nail to get a portion of those dollars back. Clearly, states better understand their residents' needs than bureaucrats and politicians in Washington and states should make these decisions."
"Former Senator Connie Mack and I pursued this approach in the past and it may be the type of reform that is needed to bring focus back to the highway program," said Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). "I look forward to holding a hearing on this legislation, so that we can have an open discussion about the future of the federal government's role in the highway transportation system."
Senator DeMint's Transportation Empowerment Act returns control of nearly all highway programs to individual states in the form of block grants to states starting in 2010 when the current highway program expires. After a multi-year transition period, the bill reduces the federal gas tax from 18.3 cents to 3.7 cents in 2013 in order to fund only the limited number of programs that serve a clear national purpose.
In return, states could adjust their state gas tax rates and keep nearly all of the revenue they collect instead of funneling it through Washington. The legislation also proposes new ways to finance roads and gives new authority to states that allows them to partner with other states to undertake major multi-state projects.
South Carolina, which currently receives 90.5% of its gas taxes back in transportation funding, would see a dramatic increase in its rate of return because nearly all of its tax revenues would never leave the state. This bill would also empower South Carolina to pursue more innovative and efficient ways to build roads by engaging in public private partnerships.
"We need to inject some common sense into the current road funding process. There is a legitimate federal role in highway transportation, but it's a limited one. We must allow states to keep their own tax dollars, determine their own priorities, and give them the flexibility to innovate. This added efficiency will benefit motorists with safer roads and businesses with lower costs." said Senator DeMint.