The Transportation Empowerment Act

The federal government also needs to open up America’s transportation system to diversity and experimentation, so that Americans can spend more time with their families in more affordable homes, and less time stuck in maddening traffic.

House-hunting middle class families today often face a Catch-22. They can stretch their finances to near bankruptcy to afford a home close to work. Or they can choose a home in a more affordable neighborhood so far away from work that they miss soccer games, piano recitals, and family dinner while stuck in gridlocked traffic.

The solution is not more government-subsidized mortgages or housing programs. A real solution involves building more roads. More roads, bridges, lanes, and mass-transit systems. Properly planned and located, these projects would help create new jobs, new communities, more affordable homes, shorter commuting times, and greater opportunity for businesses and families.

Transportation infrastructure is one of the things government is supposed to do – and conservatives should make sure it is done exceptionally well. Unfortunately, since completing the Interstate Highway System decades ago, the federal government has gotten pretty bad at maintaining and improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Today, the federal highway program is funded by a gasoline tax of 18.4 cents on every gallon sold at the pump. That money is supposed to be going into steel, concrete, and asphalt in the ground. Instead, too much of it is being siphoned off by bureaucrats and special interests in Washington.

And so Congressman Tom Graves and I are going to introduce the Transportation Empowerment Act. Under our bill, the federal gas tax would be phased down over five years from 18.4 cents per gallon, to 3.7 cents. And highway authority would be transferred proportionately from the federal government to the states.

Under our new system, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached. Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects.

Some communities could choose to build more roads, while others might prefer to repair old ones. Some might build highways, others light-rail. And all would be free to experiment with innovative green technologies, and new ways to finance their projects, like congestion pricing and smart tolls.

But the point is that all states and localities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.

For the country as a whole, our plan would mean a better infrastructure system, new jobs and opportunities, diverse localism, and innovative environmental protection. And for working families, it could mean more access to quality, affordable homes, less time on the road – and making it home in time for dinner with the kids.

Transportation Empowerment Act Basics

What It Does

The Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA) empowers states to make their own surface transportation decisions with minimal federal interference by gradually phasing out the federal highway and mass transit programs and lowering the federal gas tax so states can begin to set, finance, and implement their own infrastructure priorities according to their unique needs and values.

How It Works

TEA transfers highway authority to states over five years beginning in FY 2016. During this transition period, the federal gasoline tax will remain at 18.4 cents per gallon, but states will receive an increasing portion of their gas-tax revenue as block grants. On October 1, 2020, the transition will be complete and the federal gasoline tax will fall from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents. At that point, all 50 states will be empowered to meet their diverse transportation needs, free to experiment and innovate in the financing, construction, and planning of their transportation networks.

Why We Need It

  • Current gas tax revenues are insufficient to fund current Highway Trust Fund spending. The federal transportation finance system is broken and unsustainable. Since 2007, revenue flowing into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) from the federal gas tax has been inadequate to pay for the myriad highway, mass transit and beautification programs mandated by Congress. In that time, Congress has transferred or authorized $53.6 billion from the general fund to shore up the HTF. Despite these bailouts, HTF deficits are projected to increase for the foreseeable future.

  • The interstate highway system is largely complete and the program has lost its focus. With each re- authorization bill, Congress shoe-horns new special-interest priorities into the federal highway program, which only further stretch its resources and divert them away from the core interstate mission. For example, commuter transit now consumes 17% of trust fund spending, but accounts for less than 2% of the nation’s surface transportation travel based on passenger miles traveled. A reduced gas tax will leave Washington with sufficient funds to maintain the current system, while state empowerment will ignite a new era of open-source, community-driven innovation, experimentation, and diversity.

  • Empowering states to fund highways will allow more money to fund infrastructure by cutting-out federal middlemen. The goal of this legislation is to increase America’s investment in infrastructure, by putting decisions in the hands of communities with the most to gain from better roads, highways, and transit, and by cutting out Washington’s middlemen. Under the current system, the federal Davis-Bacon Act adds an estimated 10% to the costs of federal construction projects, at a price of more than $10 billion per year. Federal environmental reviews are estimated to add an additional 8-10% to the cost and up to 8 years to the approval time for projects. The amendment will allow transportation dollars to be spent on steel and concrete, not bureaucrats and special interests, so communities can get more roads and bridges for their buck.

  • Our 21st Century Economy Needs a 21st Century Transportation System. Transportation policy should be an open-source network that reflects the diversity of economy and society. A monolithic political bureaucracy in Washington cannot meet those needs by imposing its own values on everyone else. Different states have different values and needs – and have state and local governments perfectly capable of reflecting those values and meeting those needs in unique, customized transportation policies without the interference of politicians, bureaucrats, and special-interests in Washington.

Transportation Empowerment

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I want to know what you think.  I believe that local communities and states could make vast improvements to our nation's infrastructure if we didn't send transportation dollars to Washington first.  As we upgrade our infrastructure, I think we will help working families have more access to quality, affordable homes, access to better schools, and more time to spend together. 

Every community has different needs with their infrastructure, and I am interested in hearing how working families and businesses could be helped in your area if we were able to better allocate our infrastructure investment funds.

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