By Keith Laing, November 15, 2013
For video: http://media.thehill.com/services/player/bcpid2764968418001?bctid=2841866027001&bckey=AQ~~,AAAAAEA-5AE~,7pYsU79IKz2CB7rS1-yZzf130eU-6On5
A bill filed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) would
gradually eliminate federal funding of transportation projects.
measure, which has been dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act
(TEA), would lower the gas tax that currently pays for most federal
transportation projects from 18.4 cents-per-gallon to 3.7 cents in five
During the same time period, the bill would transfer
authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and
replace current congressional appropriations with block grants.
The concept, commonly referred to by transportation observers as
"devolution," is very popular with staunch conservatives who argue that
development of road and transit infrastructure should be left up to
Opponents of the devolution proposal typically argue
that the federal government is best suited to handle transportation
infrastructure that runs between states, like highways.
Sen. Lee offered a different take in a statement announcing the filing of the TEA bill.
the Transportation Empowerment Act, 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,” Lee said.
"Instead, states and
cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more
affordable projects," he continued. "Local communities 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
Lee said that contrary to critics' claims, the devolution bill would boost the U.S. transportation network.
the country as a whole, our plan would mean a better infrastructure
system, new jobs and opportunities, diverse localism, and innovative
environmental protection," he said. "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.”
Rep. Graves, who is re-introducing the TEA bill in the House after a previous failed effort, agreed.
want to spend less time in traffic and more time enjoying life,” he
said. “Our bill will streamline the highway program, allowing more
projects to be completed at a lower cost. This means commuters can move
more easily between home and work, freeing up important family time and
cutting out hours of frustration behind the wheel.”
Graves said the House version of the transportation devolution has garnered 19 co-sponsors.
conservative Heritage Action group, which has supported devolution
proposals in the past, came out in favor of the Lee-Graves bill this
The group said it would score lawmakers votes on the bill if it came to the floor of the respective chambers.
legislation would solve myriad problems, not the least of which is the
flawed dynamic between the federal government and the states with regard
to how federal gas tax dollars are spent," Heritage Action said in a
"key alert" to its members.
"The states and private sector have
proven more efficient users of taxpayer money, while the federal
government through the Highway Trust Fund has wasted an unjustifiable
amount of money through inefficiency, burdensome regulations, and
distracting politicization—not to mention paying for the pet projects of
lawmakers and special interests," the Heritage Action alert continue.
introduction of the devolution measure comes as lawmakers are grappling
with a shortfall in transportation spending that is predicted to reach
The current transportation funding legislation,
which is set to expire next year, includes about $54 billion in annual
spending on road and transit projects.
The 18.4 cents-per-gallon
federal gas tax only brings in about $35 billion per year. Lawmakers
filled the gap in the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century
(MAP-21) bill by tapping a series of fee increases and trust fund
Transportation advocates have for longer solution when
lawmakers consider a renewal of the surface transportation bill next
year. They point out the federal gas tax has not been increased, or even
indexed to inflation, since 1993.