Food For Thought During Your Thanksgiving Travels: Let’s Empower the States

Were you stuck in traffic traveling to your Thanksgiving destination this year?  If so, or if you know someone who was, here is some food for thought: The states should be empowered to control their own transportation infrastructure, without excessive — and inefficient — involvement from the federal government.  The states should be provided relief from federal regulations so that they could put local priorities first and fund projects that provide congestion relief, capacity expansion, and enhanced mobility.


The Heritage Foundation has written on this issue, and Heritage Action is scoring in favor of legislation that would make this idea a reality, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) 100% and Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) 79%’s Transportation Empowerment Act.  

The bill “would turn back control of the federal highway program (including transit) to the states by incrementally decreasing the federal gas tax and the size of the federal program, and in turn empower the states to fund and manage their transportation programs and priorities—not those of Washington bureaucrats or influential lobbyists.”

Heritage notes:

Empowering states and localities to control their own transportation projects and partner with the private sector when it makes sense should be Congress’s goal as it works toward the next highway bill reauthorization. Doing so would alleviate the problems and inefficiencies that arise from continuing resolutions and even federal funding lapses and lessen the burdensome, distracting politicization that comes from federal involvement. Importantly, it would equip states to meet their unique transportation needs in smart, cost-effective ways.

But Heritage Foundation experts are not alone in this opinion.  Transportation expert Kenneth Orski, Editor and Publisher of Innovation NewsBriefs also explains:

[T]here is a way to fund transportation infrastructure that would allow the aggregate level of investment to exceed Trust Fund revenues without creating a funding shortfall or contributing to the deficit This approach— largely overlooked or ignored by the Beltway community which is single-mindedly focused on federal solutions– would shift responsibility for major transportation investments to the states, and finance these investments with long-term debt. (emphasis added)

There is a long-established precedent for financing infrastructure with capital raised up-front and paid for over time rather than funding it with current cash flow. All of the nations’ private transportation/communication infrastructure has been financed  this way —including the vast  voice and data transmission networks, high voltage transmission lines, pipelines, airports and freight railroads. Equally importantly, long term credit is the foundation underlying the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market —a market that would not exist, were it not for debt issued by cities and local public utilities to finance their infrastructure needs.

[T]here are at least 18 jurisdictions that currently are constructing or proposing to construct new highway and bridge facilities without the benefit of federal dollars.(See appendix below, “Financing large-scale infrastructure projects”)  Instead, they are using bond issues, long-term loans, availability payments, toll concessions and private equity risk capital. (Note: availability payments are used for facilities that are not expected to generate sufficient revenue to pay for their own construction and operation. Payments are made out of toll revenue collected by the sponsoring  public agency, dedicated sales taxes or other sources of dedicated revenue.)

[A] transition from federal funding to public and private financing of transportation infrastructure is already well underway and is likely to continue and grow given persistent deficits and pressure to reduce federal discretionary spending. (emphasis added) Automatic sequester cuts which are to rise from $84 billion in 2013 to $109 billion in 2014, could place ever tighter constraints on government’s ability to increase spending for infrastructure in the years ahead. 

The experts agree, it’s time to allow the states to control their own infrastructure projects, thereby reducing the type of congestion you may experience during your holiday travels.


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