Regulatory Reform

Highway Robbery – Why Power on Transportation Issues Should Be Restored to the States

Envision a mafia-like scheme. The federal government shows up uninvited and says, “Ya gotta keep your highways in good shape, but since we’re lookin’ out for ya, we’re gonna hold onto your highway money until it’s time to spend it, understand?”

When the time comes to start projects, the federal government hands your state an envelope of cash, but it seems a little thin. The feds explain that they’re actually looking out for a lot of friends and need to keep some of that cash to “reward some people and make sure everyone has nice things, so fugetaboutit.”

As absurd as it sounds, that’s exactly what happens to over half of our states because of the Highway Trust Fund. Over fiscal years 2005-09, our states “donated” nearly $15 billion of our gas-tax revenue, via the federal government, to projects in other states.

Fifty-five years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower worked with Congress to create the Highway Trust Fund to construct our interstate highway system. The original plan called for a 16-year gas tax of 3 cents per gallon to pay for the entire project, which would then fall to 1.5 cents per gallon in 1972.

The gas tax never declined, and now stands at 18.4 cents per gallon. Sure, the initial project may have required extra time and money, but I think most would agree that the interstate highway system is complete and the central government’s job is done. Clearly, we need steady funding to maintain our highway system, but are federal bureaucrats the right people to manage that money?

I believe the federal government has mishandled our gas-tax revenues and mistreated our states. A big pile of money in Washington is like flypaper for political agendas, lobbyists, special interests, and earmarks. The Highway Trust Fund is no exception, and it’s being drained for projects that have absolutely nothing to do with highways. In fact, according to the Heritage Foundation, 2009 saw about 38 percent of our highway funding going to non-highway projects.

One example of misuse is how the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have teamed up to advance something called the Livability Initiative.

Essentially, they’ve decided your neighborhood needs some touching up, so they’ve started taking money from highways and giving it to local projects such as bike paths, sidewalks, and decorative flower arrangements for medians. And the livability plan is nothing compared to the many rail programs, commuter-transit projects, bridges-to-nowhere and administrative costs that soak up our highway dollars.

With Washington currently overwhelmed by so many of its own mistakes, highway funding is one issue that can and should be handed back to the states.

That is why I was proud to vote in 2008 in favor of SR 750 as a Georgia State Representative. SR 750 “urges the federal government to cease the collection of motor fuel taxes in Georgia so that the state can collect and distribute the taxes without the delay caused by federal collection and disbursement.” Some might consider this a “conservative” position, however, it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and I believe other states would see similar reception.

There are several legislative proposals in Washington that would return transportation power back to the states. For instance, I introduced H.R. 3264: the Transportation Empowerment Act, which would transfer authority to the states over a four year period, reducing federal gas taxes to 3.7 cents per gallon, and giving the states control over their local roads, while continuing a reduced federal role for legitimate national projects. As well, I plan to offer an amendment to include provisions of this bill in the multi-year transportation bill being considered by the House of Representatives mid-February. However, neither the Transportation Empowerment Act nor any of the other proposals being considered in Congress will succeed without pressure from the states—pressure from your state legislatures.

For more information, please see ALEC’s “Resolution to Restore Transportation to the States.”


In Depth: Regulatory Reform

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry.” Sadly, governments – both federal and state – have ignored this axiom and…

+ Regulatory Reform In Depth