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US Senate Rejects Diminished Federal Transportation Role
US Senate votes for stop-gap funding measure, rejecting overhaul of transportation funding mechanism.

Senator Mike Lee
The US Senate on Tuesday voted 79 to 18 to pass a modified version of the stop-gap measure providing funding for federal transportation projects that cleared the House earlier this month. The upper chamber rejected a plan offered by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) with a 28 to 69 vote that would have phased out the system where gas tax funds collected at the state level are sent to Washington and then redistributed to the states with strings attached.

"This amendment is the end of the federal highway system," Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-California) said. "The states oppose it... It would result in an immediate eighty percent cut to our states."

Lee's Transportation Empowerment Act would have reduced the federal gasoline tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over the course of five years. The amount of funding sent from the US Department of Transportation to each state would also diminish accordingly. After the year 2020, the smaller federal gasoline tax would be used to maintain the interstate highway system and a more modest US Department of Transportation with the states freed to raise and spend money to meet their own local needs.

"Our federal highway status quo is not working, and it hasn't been working for a long time," Lee explained. "This debate is itself the dysfunction of Washington, DC... We're here with the duct tape and WD-40 trying to keep this 20th century bureaucracy in place rather than embracing the worthy challenge of building a new mobility policy, one that's well suited for the 21st century."

Lee argues that there is no need to have the federal government serve as the central coordinator now that the interstate highway system is complete. The idea behind the amendment is to eliminate the federal government's tendency to impose the same policy solutions on every state.

"More environmentally conscious states could finally have the flexibility to invest in green projects and bike lanes," Lee said. "Regions reaping the benefits of America's energy renaissance could accelerate their own infrastructure and their own build-outs to keep up with their explosive growth. Dense cities could invest in more sustainable public transit networks. Meanwhile, surrounding counties could reopen the frontiers of the suburbs."

Lee argues that the elimination of the federal middleman would mean more money would be available for projects, especially after federal strings that raise labor and design costs are eliminated. The House version of the Transportation Empowerment Act is sponsored by Representative Tom Graves (R-Georgia), a copy of which is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File HR 3486 (US House of Representatives, 7/30/2014)

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