DeMint Introduces Transportation Empowerment Act
Legislation Gives States Control of Highway Funding, Flexibility to Innovate; New GAO Study Concludes Federal Transportation Role Should Be Reduced
Today, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act to reform the federal highway program. The bill would devolve federal highway and mass transit projects and their funding sources to states, allowing each state to determine their own transportation priorities.
"The federal highway system is plagued by thousands of wasteful earmarks, bureaucratic red tape, and outdated funding formulas that pick winners and losers," said Senator DeMint. "Americans are angry at Washington politicians who waste billions on frivolous pork projects while bridges crumble and critical infrastructure is ignored. It's time to empower states to make their own transportation decisions and stop making taxpayers pay for bridges to nowhere and teapot museums in other states."
"I join Senator DeMint in his desire to pursue a dramatic shift in how we address transportation infrastructure from the federal perspective," said Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I introduced a similar bill in 2002 because, like Senator DeMint, I believe that States and local communities know better then the Federal Government what is needed for their citizens. The Federal responsibility is to provide a national transportation system that promotes interstate commerce, not to micro manage individual choices of cities and counties. Thus, during the reauthorization discussions on SAFETEA-LU, I will be supporting efforts to refocus the federal program on true national transportation needs. I welcome Senator DeMint's contribution to the debate."
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.
A 2008 Government Accountability Office report requested by Senators DeMint and Inhofe found that:
"Functions that other entities can perform better than the federal government could be turned back to the state or other levels of government. Given that already substantial roles states and localities play in financing, design, construction, and operation of transportation facilities and service, there may be areas that no long call for federal involvement and funding could be reassessed."
"The reality is that the national interstate system was completed years ago. States should be able to keep their own transportation dollars instead of sending them to Washington and only getting a portion of them back with layers of regulations and earmarks," said Senator DeMint. "The Transportation Empowerment Act is a commonsense solution to the broken highway funding system."
If the Transportation Empowerment Act were passed, "Donor states," which send Washington more in gas taxes than they receive back in transportation funding, would see a dramatic increase in their rate of return because nearly all of the tax revenues would never leave the state. This bill would also empower states to pursue more innovative and efficient ways to build roads by engaging in public private partnerships.
A report published by the nonpartisan Heritage Foundation from October 2007 found that most "donor states" have been receiving a losing share of federal transportation funds since the program's inception in 1956, even though many of these states are experiencing above-average population growth. Heritage found that the five biggest "donor states" in the current federal highway funding system (Texas, South Carolina, Minnesota, Georgia and Indiana) lost a combined total of over $1.2 billion tax dollars in Fiscal Year 2005. According to the report:
"South Carolina was one of the biggest losers in 2005 because its motorists provided the trust fund with 1.836 percent of its rev¬enues while receiving only 1.535 percent of spending in return. In effect, South Carolina received only an 83.6 percent payback on its investment share. South Carolina is also one of the biggest losers over the 50-year history of the program. Only Texas and Oklahoma have done worse since the program's inception."
A 2007 report by the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General requested by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) contains the following findings on the problems created by transportation earmarks:
Department of Transportation (DOT) earmarks have increased in number by 1,150 percent in 10 years (1996 - 2005), with the value of earmarks in the same timeframe jumping 314 percent.
Ninety-nine percent of earmarks (7,724 out of 7,760) were not subject to the transportation agencies' review and selection processes or bypassed the states' normal planning and programming processes.
Earmarks may not be the most effective or efficient use of funds. The IG report identifies five ways in which earmarks impact programs in the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration, as follows (see pages 11 - 14 of the full report):
o Earmarks can reduce funding for the states' core transportation programs.
o Earmarks do not always coincide with DOT strategic research goals.
o Many low priority, earmarked projects are being funded over higher priority, non-earmarked projects.
o Earmarks provide funds for projects that would otherwise be ineligible.
o Earmarks can disrupt the agency's ability to fund programs as designated when authorized funding amounts are exceeded by "overearmarking."