The Transportation Empowerment Act

July 13, 2018

Americans are increasingly divided on many issues, but federal funding for interstate highways isn’t one of them.

The American people broadly support federal spending to maintain the interstate highway system and the federal gas tax has been a reasonable, but not perfect, way to pay for it.

Unfortunately, decades ago politicians in Washington began using the once flush Highway Trust Fund to fund their own non-highway transportation pet projects.

In 1983, for example, Congress created a mass transit account within the Highway Trust Fund that was funded by simply stealing gas tax dollars from the HTF.

Today roughly 25 percent of your gas tax dollars are diverted in a similar fashion to bike paths, buses, light rail, streetcars, and vegetation management.

No wonder the system is broke.

For more than 10 years, Congress has transferred or authorized more than $144 billion from the general fund to bailout the HTF. Absent any changes, the CBO estimates that the HTF will still face a cumulative shortfall of $161 billion by 2028.

The status quo is not sustainable. And that is why I have introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Under our bill, the federal gasoline tax would gradually be lowered from 18.3 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon over the next five years, leaving Washington with sufficient funds to maintain the current interstate highway system. It also would give states a more equitable share of federal gas-tax revenue as block grants. States would then be free to set their own gas tax levels and fund their own transportation projects.

By cutting out the federal middleman, we can protect these funds from greedy politicians and special interests taking their cut before sending them back to the states with strings and burdensome regulations attached. And we can lessen the influence of distant bureaucrats in Washington who waste the money on inefficient and non-highway projects.

Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects. All 50 states would be empowered to meet their diverse transportation needs.

Some communities could build more roads, while others could repair old ones. Some might build highways, others light rail. All would be free to experiment with innovative green technologies, and could find new ways to finance their projects.

In our 21st Century Economy, we need a 21st Century transportation system. And the best way to do this is to allow state and local governments to customize their transportation policies to meet their unique needs and values. The Transportation Empowerment Act is a step in that direction.