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Public Statements

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COATS. Mr. President, this amendment No. 1517 is of major significance to Indiana, as well as to a majority of the States across this country. Most people are familiar with the fact that when they pull up to the pump, they are not only paying for the cost of gas, they are paying the tax on the cost of that gas. The Federal tax on that gasoline pumped into the tank is then sent to Washington and put into a so-called Federal gas tax fund--a trust.

The word ``trust'' is somewhat of a misnomer because, like so many trusts that we create, it doesn't live up to its name. A trust means that it is safeguarded, and nobody else can touch it or use it. The trust fund was designed to collect taxes from the sale of gasoline at the Federal level and then, under a provision, return that tax back to the State.

The bottom line is that the majority of States in this country are not getting back what they put in. This amendment is designed to correct that flaw, or at least that current provision, in terms of the way the trust fund is operated. My colleague from Ohio, Senator Portman, just announced an amendment that I think makes a great deal of sense. I intend to support that. This is somewhat of a similar amendment, except that what this requires is that a State receives its fair share of what it puts into the trust fund.

My State, like many across the Nation, draws the short end of the stick in terms of getting our money back, in that it turns the trust fund into a distribution fund, based upon the outdated formula and continuation of the broken earmark process. In reality, many States receive less than they put in. The interesting part of this is that there is a formula created by which an average of the amount of money spent by States is calculated, and States are rewarded on that basis, and the money is distributed on the basis of how that historical average is calculated.

So States that have had very efficient Members of Congress creating earmarks and pouring more money into their States by earmarking end up with a higher historical average. As a result those States benefit now from the distribution from the trust fund to a greater degree. In fact, they are called the donee States because they receive more than what is put in from the donor States.

So those States that have taken more responsible fiscal measures in terms of how they spend their money and how they spend the taxpayers' dollars, such as the State of Indiana, end up being shortchanged simply because we have been more prudent in terms of how we spend our money. We haven't relied on earmarks over the years in Indiana, which under the current version of this bill would have raised our historical average. As a consequence we end up being a donor State donating more money to Washington than we receive in return.

The Senate has recently passed legislation to end the practice of earmarking. I think this is a very positive step forward. But we now have a Federal program that, in a sense, is calculated and based on the practice of past earmarking. So if we are serious about eliminating earmarking, we are also going to need to fix the formulas used in current programs that are rewarding States with more money than they deserve because these states received more earmarks in previous years. My amendment fixes this inequity and restores the trust fund to its original intent--to give taxpayer money back to them in the amount they deposited.

Under my amendment each State will get back what it put in out of the total available funds. It is a fairness issue and the trust fund is truly a trust fund. This amendment will send a message to the American people and the administration that Congress is serious about changing the culture in Washington. The American people have rejected earmarking, and it would be irresponsible for this institution to reward that practice under this highway bill.

So I urge my colleagues to support this important amendment. It takes a stand for fairness and fiscal integrity. It will be brought up on Tuesday. I urge my colleagues to support this both from the standpoint of fairness--which gives back to every State and every taxpayer the money a fair share of what they put into the trust fund as ending the practice of rewarding States that benefitted from earmarks and punishing those that have been fiscally prudent.

Mr. President, with that, I yield the floor.


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