Transport Interests Attack Conservatives’ Highway Bill

September 16, 2014

By Oliver Patton

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A bid by conservatives in the House and Senate to effectively eliminate the federal highway program is drawing fire from American Trucking Associations and other transportation interests.

The Transportation Empowerment Act, sponsored by five Senators and 52 Representatives, would devolve control over highways and transit from the federal government to the states.

It also would lower the federal gas tax from 18.4 to 3.7 cents a gallon.

During a five-year transition period, the states would receive federal block grants with fewer federal requirements than are now in place.

On the Senate side, the bill is championed by Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Among the sponsors in the House are Reps. John Mica, R-Fla., former chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Michele Bachman, R-Minn.

Supporters of the bill contend that it would reduce the red tape that can slow up projects, give states more flexibility to levy taxes and create jobs.

ATA and its allies said the bill is “ill-conceived.”

By stripping federal funding from transportation it would virtually eliminate the federal government’s constitutionally mandated role in promoting interstate commerce, the groups said.

Moreover, “The bill reduces funding for the federal-aid highway program by more than 80% by 2019 … with no consideration of the impact on state and local governments or private industry.”

It also would eradicate the federal transit program.

The groups acknowledge that some rules may slow down highway construction projects.

“However, these challenges do not warrant putting the safety of motorists and the health of the nation’s economy at risk by decimating the primary funding program for our nation’s most critical infrastructure,” they say in their letter to Congress.

Another problem with devolution is that the money now in the Highway Trust Fund would simply go away, they add. States would have to replace it by raising tens of billions of dollars in taxes or taking the money from other uses.

If states opted to raise their own fuel taxes, the average levy would go up by 16 cents a gallon and some states would have to go as high as 30 cents, the groups said.

“Devolution represents abandonment by Congress of its constitutional obligation to promote interstate commerce and would prove disastrous to state and local governments’ ability to maintain and improve their transportation systems.”

Devolution is not a solution but a distraction from the ongoing debate over how to pay for national infrastructure, the groups said.

“Congress must act now to avoid prolonging the ongoing funding crisis that is the result of failure to provide long-term stable funding for transportation,” they said.

Joining ATA are 16 national groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Highway Users Alliance, AAA and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The federal highway program is now running on a temporary extension that will expire next May. Some in Washington, including Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, are urging Congress to complete work on a new bill by the end of the year. But that effort was set back when the House Ways and Means Committee canceled a planned September hearing on transportation finance.


  1. 1. Brian Loysen [ September 17, 2014 @ 05:10AM ] we want the federal government out of our lives....but that teat just has to keep on giving?

    Did I miss some common sense input here....? If they drop the taxes the states will raise their taxes accordingly. It is even possible the states won't need to raise the taxes to the same limits the federal taxes were. Maybe we the consumer might be able to save a few cents at the pump.

    And some regulations will be eased for job creation?

    Where is the problem here?

  2. 2. Cliff Downing [ September 17, 2014 @ 08:52AM ]

    The fuel tax thing seems to be a wash. One thing for certain, by having it at the state level, it is close to the constituents it serves. But it does need some state level legislation that mandates that all fuel taxes be used only for roads. No funneling off money for studying how cattle flatulence is affecting the ozone layer or similar that goes on now at both state and federal level.

    Brian is right... Where is the problem here?

  3. 3. Darren [ September 17, 2014 @ 09:03AM ]

    Good riddance, I no problem with getting the federal government out of our lives. The head of the ATA is a liberal/big government democrat; so of course, the ATA is going to have a problem with less federal bureaucracy. I'm all for more local control and less federal control. More power to the states results in less federal messes.

  4. 4. Steve [ September 17, 2014 @ 03:51PM ]

    Guys -- are you thinking this through? I get the I-hate-government thing, but this makes zero sense. CA, NY and CT have 80-100 people for every mile of road in the state. KS and NE have 10. How would KS and NE and similar states keep up with the more populous states? A big piece of the reason we have the greatest economy in the world is that Eisenhower saw that connecting ALL states with a modern, efficient interstate transport system would grow everybody. You cant have good highways ending at the State line, and you cant have only the "rich states" with good infrastructure.

  5. 5. Nicholas [ September 17, 2014 @ 07:36PM ]

    Steve. Interstate commerce will bring money to lower population states. Just as you are taxed now when you drive through any state. If we don't bring this government of the people by the government, under control soon, we will be driving speed limited trucks and be under more scrutiny then we can bear. This bill will help return a portion of our economy back to a government by the people for the people that we have been losing since the late 1800s. It is not really a huge step but it is a meaningful one that will benefit everyone from the top down. Especially the consumer who wants goods at lower prices and benefit the drivers who haul the goods.

  6. 6. John [ September 20, 2014 @ 07:51AM ]

    The argument that funding transportation infrastructure is a constitutionally mandated responsibility of the federal government is absurd. There are many alternative ways Congress can promote interstate commerce. States can and will do a better job of funding. The Federal government can still play a role by setting national standards for quality of construction and accessibility without giving them unfettered access to our wallets.

  7. 7. Rich [ September 22, 2014 @ 06:50AM ]

    If you have ever driven through PA you have seen how poorly the states can do on maintaining roads. PA's solution a few years ago was to sell the interstates to private firms who would turn them into toll roads. Fortunately that idea fell to the side. But it seems to be a popular idea among the "kill the government crowd". How long would it take a private firm to take the cash, default on repairs and disappear? A strong government has its place. Don't get blinded by anti-government hysteria. The best road has always turned out to be the one in the middle.

  8. 8. Hugh [ October 01, 2014 @ 12:43PM ]

    Lowering the federal gas tax to 3.7 cents maintains that the federal government will remain in repairing and improving the interstate highway system. Not to mention that the states already own all of the interstate highway within their state. TEA would improve the speed at which projects would be accomplished and lower the cost. People need to stop freaking out about the population density of a state. I think that even makes the case that states like Montana and Wyoming should stop giving CA and NY federal gas tax money for their politically ambitious and bloated projects. ND, SD, MT, WY - all of the rural states would be just fine and probably would have the best interstates and roads in the country if they were to cut the strings that the federal government has tied onto highway projects.

    Even the PA state legislature and Gov declared that they want the responsibility. TEA is the solution here. Maintaining status quo is not.


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