Legislation that will substantially change the way highway construction and upgrading projects are funded has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.
Senate Bill 3190, otherwise known as the Transportation Empowerment Act, is designed, according to its sponsors to give states more authority for “taxing and spending for highway programs and mass transit programs, and other purposes.”
If passed, the bill would incrementally decrease the amount of money going into the federal government’s Highway Transportation Fund by reducing the current gasoline fuel tax of 18.4 cents a gallon.
Over a scheduled period of four years, between 2019 and 2023, that tax would be reduced to 3.7 cents, doing away with 70 percent of the funding making up the Highway Transportation Fund.
Utah Senator Mike Lee, one of the sponsors of the legislation, contends that the Highway Transportation Fund is, for all purposes, broke.
“And another year of band aid funding is not going to fix it,” said Lee in a statement.
Instead, Lee contends that state and local governments should be left to fund transportation projects on their own, adding that those states would respond with “customized transportation policies without the interference of politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests in Washington.”
The legislation has received harsh criticism from various transportation industry organizations, including the Highway Materials Group, which, also in a statement, contends that even if the states are able to raise fuel taxes for needed transportation projects, “the diversion of funds to non-highway purposes is more extensive in many states than it is under the federal-aid program.”
According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association federal funds currently provide 52 percent of state department of transportation funding for highway and bridge projects.
The figure in Arizona is 49 percent; in Colorado, it’s 64 percent; and in New Mexico, 70 percent of transportation spending comes from Washington.
By Garry Boulard
Get stories like these right to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter