The Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), shifts power from Washington, D.C., to the states and restores federalism in the area of transportation. The bill, H.R. 3486 in the House and S. 1702 in the Senate, would reduce gas taxes collected by the federal government and leave funding decisions to the states.
The bill would reduce the federal fuel tax from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents over five years. According to Rep. Graves’ website, “during the five-year phase out, states will receive block grants that come with vastly fewer strings attached.” After five years, states will decide how to fund their transportation projects, either through state gas taxes that replace the federal taxes or some other system of their choosing.
Currently, a joint committee of the Georgia legislature is meeting to discuss funding of highways and other transportation projects in the state. The Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding has held four of its eight planned meetings and will meet four more times before the end of the year. According to observers, there has been only a passing mention of TEA in these meetings, although it is an obvious solution to Georgia’s funding problems.
When the General Assembly convenes in January, it should pass a resolution calling on Congress to pass the TEA.
According to Rep. Graves, Georgia’s buying power in Fiscal Year 2014 is estimated at 84 percent, which is a loss of $185 million in highway funds to Georgia taxpayers.
Rep. Graves talked recently with Fox News about his bill.
According to Heritage Action for America, the grassroots lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, the Highway Trust Fund, which was recently funded through next spring, provides a lot wasteful spending, some irrelevant to the construction or maintenance of highways and roads. For instance, in FY 2014, $820 million was spent on “transportation alternatives,” including landscaping, beautification projects and transportation museums. And how exactly does this provide good roads or relieve congestion in our cities and towns?
According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, if TEA were enacted, it would save $71 billion over 10 years, while allowing the states wide flexibility to determine their own transportation policies.
Graves’ proposal was included in a House Rules Committee amendment to the short-term highway bill, H.R. 5021, which passed the House and Senate and the president signed into law on Aug. 8. The key language of the amendment, from Section 3001, reads as follows:
…the existing Highway Trust Fund system is unsustainable and unable to meet our Nation’s 21st century transportation needs … reforms should include the elimination of duplicative Federal regulations and increase the authority and responsibility of the States to safely and efficiently build, operate, and fund transportation systems that best serve the needs of their citizens, including the ability of each State to implement innovative solutions, while also maintaining the appropriate Federal role in transportation.
Every citizen should contact their members of Congress and demand that this common-sense approach to transportation funding be adopted when Congress reconsiders highway funding next year.