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Is Rep. Tom Graves’ Transportation Reform Bill ‘The Right Direction To Take’

Last month, Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act (H.R. 3486/S. 1702).

Rep. Tom Graves
Rep. Tom Graves

In Case You Missed It - Last month, Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act (H.R. 3486/S. 1702), a bill to reform the federal highway program by transferring power back to the states. AJC columnist Kyle Wingfield spoke with Rep. Graves about how the bill would help Georgia save money and respond to transportation needs. Learn more about the bill by visiting http://tomgraves.house.gov/tea/.

End D.C.’s highway robbery

By Kyle Wingfield

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

December 8, 2013

http://www.myajc.com/news/news/opinion/end-dcs-highway-robbery/ncCmC/

Could Georgia use another $185 million this year to spend on roads, bridges and transit? You bet.

Now, what if I told you that money already exists, as gas taxes Georgia motorists already pay, but is going up in smoke like the rubber off a drag racer’s tire?

That $185 million figure is an estimate of Georgia’s combined cost of sending more gas-tax revenue to Washington than it receives back in federal grants and complying with federal regulations. That money will be at our disposal if the Transportation Empowerment Act becomes law and devolves much federal responsibility for transportation policy and funding to the states.

“It’s rather silly that Georgia taxpayers pay taxes at the pump that go to the federal government that then tells our state how it must spend the money with all this red tape and bureaucracy — and by the way, we’re not even going to give you all the money you submitted,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who introduced the bill in the House and whose office compiled the $185 million estimate for this fiscal year from various data sources.

The bill would reduce the federal gas tax to 3.7 cents a gallon from the current 18.4 cents a gallon over the course of five years. The federal government would retain responsibility for highway safety, research and roads on federal lands.

Everything else, from deciding what to build to maintaining what we have, would be up to the states — just as governors have asked of Washington since at least 1953.

Georgia in many years is a “donor state,” paying more gas tax than it receives in federal funding, even before regulatory costs are considered. But Graves said the bill has support even among lawmakers from states that receive more money than they pay in.

“They deal with the same delays, red tape and bureaucracy,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “So even though states might receive more, they’re paying more [in expenses] just because they have to go through all the red tape and delays of the federal government.”

Those higher costs include completing often-redundant environmental reviews and following the Davis-Bacon law which requires even right-to-work states like Georgia to pay union wages on fed projects.

Graves said federal mandates also include a certain amount of spending on things such as bike paths and walking trails. “All of which is laudable,” he said, “and if that’s what the local community wants, great. But it shouldn’t be coming from the federal government.”

Add it up, and Georgia is missing about one-sixth of its potential federal transportation money.

“It just allows the state of Georgia to use existing taxes being collected,” Graves said. “That would go a long way, and you just think about that each and every year.”

The bill has 19 co-sponsors in the House, including Georgia’s Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Lynn Westmoreland and Rob Woodall. It was introduced in the Senate by Utah’s Mike Lee. Graves called the bill a “beginning point” as Congress debates the re-authorization of its multi-year transportation bill, due next year.

“What we’ve done is put an idea out there. I’m always open to suggestions of how it could be improved or modified,” he said. “That’s why we started early, and we have a year to proceed.”

Shifting power toward taxpayers and their local and state governments is the right direction to take.

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