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FreedomWorks’ Bill of the Month for September 2016: Transportation Empowerment Act

FreedomWorks is proud to announce that our Bill of the Month for September 2016 is S.1541, the Transportation Empowerment Act introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and its House counterpart, H.R. 2716 introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla). These bills respect the principles of federalism, would cut the federal gas tax, and reduce bureaucracy. Talk about making freedom work.

For too long, much of our nation’s highway transportation infrastructure has been tethered to the whims of the federal government. Our roadways and motorists have been the losers in this arrangement. As U.S. News and World Report explained, “one out of every nine bridges in the country are structurally deficient, nearly one-third of roads are in poor or mediocre condition and more than 43 percent of urban and suburban highways are congested, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, a nonpartisan lobbying organization which assesses and advocates for U.S. infrastructure.”

Progressives would like us to believe that the poor state of our nation’s roads is because of a lack of federal funding and anemic federal involvement in our highways. They are wrong. The National Highway Trust Fund, “the source of revenue for the interstate highway system and other federal-aid highway programs, was created by the Highway Revenue Act of 1956. The 1956 act set an expiration date of 1972, which has been extended several times by later legislation.” The states were supposed to take over the responsibility of maintaining their respective portions of the highway system starting in 1972. That never happened. Because federal bureaucracies never shrink.

As a result, our nation’s highway system deteriorated, partly because the decisions about highways in states are made by bureaucrats in Washington DC, who do not have to live with the results of their poor choices. States lack an incentive to create new and innovative ways to deal with highway transportation because they are restricted by federal rules that are tied to the money to which they have become addicted.

The Transportation Empowerment Act would phase out the status quo in favor of a better highway system and put an end to the broken approach to highways that Washington DC has foisted on the states. As Sen. Lee explained, the bill “would gradually lower the federal gas tax and reduce the federal highway program — focusing it on purely interstate projects ­— so states can implement more of their own infrastructure priorities.” According to Rep. DeSantis, the legislation “will give states the power to determine their own road map for transportation policy while largely eliminating Washington’s role as a bureaucratic middleman.” It would also drop “the federal gasoline tax over 5 years from 18.3 cents a gallon to 3.7 cents a gallon, collecting enough revenue for the federal government to maintain interstate highways and transportation projects.”

The federal government’s heavy-handed approach to transportation is one of the reasons why our transportation infrastructure has deteriorated. The Transportation Empowerment Act will empower states to address their transportation problems, and hold state lawmakers accountable to find solutions. This will show the responsibility these lawmakers have to their constituents for the success or failure of their decisions. The federal focus would stay on interstate transportation priorities.

Changing the course of the bureaucracy isn’t easy. It requires courage, farsightedness, and a dedication to the constitutional principles our country was founded upon. Sen. Lee and Rep. DeSantis are to be commended for their legislation. You can help their effort by asking your representative and senators to cosponsor this legislation and push for committee hearings on the Transportation Empowerment Act.

It is time for congressional interference in state transportation decisions to hit the road.