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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to talk about the amendment that we call the Transportation Empowerment Act. This is actually legislation that has been worked on for over 10 years. Our ranking member, Senator Inhofe, helped to develop this legislation, and it is essentially the same as when he introduced it 10 years ago. He pointed out that he had long believed that the best decisions are those made at the local level. Unfortunately, many of the transportation choices made by cities and States are governed by Federal rules and regulations.
This bill returns to the States the responsibility and resources to make their own transportation decisions--those were Senator Inhofe's words. I think we all know, as a Nation, that we are not going to solve our spending and debt problems unless we are willing to begin to move some public services from Washington back to the States where they can be done more effectively and less expensively, and one of those public services is transportation.
I would point out that the Transportation Department at the Federal level was formed almost 60 years ago to build our Interstate Highway System and this system is essentially complete. The States maintain most of the interstate highways now with some Federal support. The problem we have now is that 18 cents out of every gallon of gasoline comes to Washington and a majority of States get back less than they send.
We have what I think could be called an infrastructure crisis in America. Roads and bridges are decaying everywhere and we are behind on our maintenance in the building of new roads, so it is obvious that what we are doing is not working. Instead of solving the problems with real reforms, the underlying bill is adding to what we are spending above the trust fund--above the 18 cents--without any real reforms to make the system work better. So I think I can conclude that the current Federal transportation finance system is broken.
Since 2007, rather than evaluate true infrastructure priorities and attempt to live within our means by eliminating special interest programs, Congress has bailed out the highway trust fund to the tune of $35 billion. With the pending reauthorization, the trust fund will require a bailout of another $13 billion.
At the end of this big-spending 2-year reauthorization, Congress will be back at the drawing board scrambling for additional budgetary gimmicks and offsets to keep this charade from imploding. If this were a traditional 6-year highway bill, at this rate of runaway spending it would require a bailout of $39 billion from the general fund.
There is a better way. It is time to get the Washington bureaucracy and costly regulations out of the way and empower States to be the primary decisionmakers for their own local and State infrastructure. My amendment allows for States to keep their gas taxes and set their own priorities while avoiding an additional layer of Washington bureaucracy.
We should devolve the Federal highway program from Washington to the States. We can dramatically cut the Federal gas tax to a few pennies, which would be enough to fund the limited number of highway programs that serve a clear national purpose. In turn, States could adjust their own gas taxes to make their own construction and repair decisions without costly rules such as Davis-Bacon regulations and without having to funnel the money through Washington's wasteful bureaucracy and some self-serving politicians.
My amendment would free States from the wasteful and corrupt Davis-Bacon Act, which needlessly focuses or forces the government to pay labor union wages for construction projects. Davis-Bacon harms workers who choose not to join unions, and it raised the costs to taxpayers last year by nearly $11 billion.
Our Nation's fiscal situation is perilous, with a $15 trillion debt set to double to $30 trillion in the next decade. Bipartisan compromises on spending like this bill got us into this mess and we will never get out of it if we don't embrace bold commonsense reforms.
I urge my colleagues to support my amendment and empower the States by giving them the flexibility they need to maintain their infrastructures.
If I could take a second to summarize, I know some Members have stepped into this legislation that has been under development for many years. It is one that has been talked about by the States, with over half of our States what we consider donor States. If we were able to not only remove the Federal bureaucracy but also the regulations that force States to spend money in ways they don't like, the overwhelming majority of States would have a lot more money to spend on roads and bridges than they do now.
We are not talking about cutting spending on transportation. What we are talking about is actually increasing it by moving this service back to the States where it can be guided with a lot more on-the-ground knowledge of what needs to be done, without all of the political maneuvering in Washington to send money to one State versus another. This is a way to maintain our Federal priority with a small part of the gas tax and allow the States to basically keep the rest of the gas tax to serve their own needs.
If we cannot do this, I don't see any way that we are going to be able to deal with our national debt. If we can recognize there is an obvious service here that can be done better and less expensively and quicker at the State and local level and we can move that bureaucracy out of Washington, we can make the highway trust fund solvent.
If we can't do something that makes this much common sense and saves the taxpayers money and actually delivers a better service, it is difficult for me to understand how we are ever going to deal with the huge debt and spending problem we have now in Washington.
I reserve the remainder of my time.
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