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>Devolve Transportation Spending to States

>Devolve Transportation Spending to States
By Daniel Horowitz
Jan 19, 2012 Issues: Constitution

One of the numerous legislative deadlines that Congress will be forced to confront this session is the expiration of the 8th short-term extension of the 2005 surface transportation authorization law (SAFETEA-LU).  With federal transportation spending growing beyond its revenue source, an imbalance between donor and recipient states, inefficient and superfluous construction projects popping up all over the country, and burdensome mass transit mandates on states, it is time to inject some federalism into transportation spending.

Throughout the presidential campaign, many of the candidates have expressed broad views of state’s rights, while decrying the expansion of the federal government.  In doing so, some of the candidates have expressed the conviction that states have the right to implement tyranny or pick winners and losers, as long as the federal government stays out of it.  Romneycare and state subsidies for green energy are good examples.  The reality is that states don’t have rights; they certainly don’t have the power to impose tyranny on citizens by forcing them to buy health insurance or regulating the water in their toilet bowels – to name a few.  They do, however, reserve powers under our federalist system of governance to implement legitimate functions of government.  A quintessential example of such a legitimate power is control over transportation and infrastructure spending.

The Highway Trust Fund was established in 1956 to fund the Interstate Highway System (IHS).  The fund, which is administered by the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, has been purveyed by the federal gasoline tax, which now stands at 18.4 cents per gallon (24.4 for diesel fuel).  Beginning in 1983, Congress began siphoning off some of the gas tax revenue for the great liberal sacred cow; the urban mass transit system.  Today, mass transit receives $10.2 billion in annual appropriations, accounting for a whopping 20% of transportation spending.  Additionally, the DOT mandates that states use as much as 10% of their funding for all sorts of local pork projects, such as bike paths and roadside flowers.

As a result of the inefficiencies and wasteful mandates of our top-down approach to transportation spending, trust fund outlays have exceeded its revenue source by an average of $12 billion per year, even though the IHS – the catalyst for the gasoline tax – has been completed for 20 years.  In 2008, the phantom trust fund was bailed out with $35 billion in general revenue, and has been running a deficit for the past few years.  Congress has not passed a 6-year reauthorization bill since 2005, relying on a slew of short-term extensions, the last of which is scheduled to expire on March 31.

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