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A Transportation Funding Bill Named for the Tea Party

Make that a 'defunding' bill, technically described as a devolution bill. The concept is simple: roll back the federal gas tax to 3.7 cents per gallon, shift transportation responsibility to the states and use block grants to provide federal funding.
November 18, 2013, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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The Hill's transportation reporter, Keith Laing, covers both sides of the federal transportation funding shortfall, i.e., the 18.4-cent per gallon gas tax, not raised since 1993, which provides insufficient funds to cover current transportation spending.

Yesterday, we posted his blog on a new bipartisan Senate bill that would increase transportation funding through the creation of an infrastructure bank. In this article, he covers a new bill, dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), that would drastically reduce government spending on transportation projects by shifting responsibility to the states.

Filed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), the bills, (S. 1702 and H.R. 3486, respectively) "reduce the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to 3.7 cents in five years" while transferring "authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and replace(s) current congressional appropriations with block grants," writes Laing.

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 states. 

The bill, a retake of failed 1996 legislation of the same name by then Congressman John Kasich (now governor of Ohio), has attracted many supporters. "Graves said the House version of the transportation devolution has garnered 19 co-sponsors. The conservative Heritage Action group, which has supported devolution proposals in the past, came out in favor of the Lee-Graves bill this week," writes Laing.

While a drastic reduction of the taxes motorists pay to the federal government would no doubt please conservatives, state governors and legislators, regardless of party affiliation, may balk at the idea of assuming responsibility for federal roads and bridges without receiving additional funding.

Crane Durham's "NothingButTruth" blog sheds some light on how states would get the funds to take on their new responsibilities.

States would be free to increase their state gas taxes or implement alternative revenue collection mechanisms—whatever works best for their citizens.

Easier written than done. We've devoted countless posts to attempts by states to increase state gas taxes and other measures to increase transportation revenue. The track record is by and large not a good one.

Laing also presents the article in a video format.

Full Story:
Published on Friday, November 15, 2013 in The Hill's Transportation and Infrastructure Blog
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