Why America needs the Transportation Empowerment Act

The Transportation Empowerment Act would empower states by allowing them to keep and control their gasoline tax revenues, set their infrastructure priorities, control their transportation decisions, and partner with the private sector to meet local needs.

Currently, American motorists and truckers pay a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon at the pump; the money is funneled into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and funneled back to the states via complex congressional formulas, and billions are diverted each year to programs that do not improve congestion.  The current system increases the cost of projects — Davis-Bacon, for example, increases the cost of construction projects by ten percent — and subjects what should be local decisions to the whims of Washington bureaucrats or influential lobbyists.

Put another way, the federal government serves as little more than an expensive pass through for the remainder of transportation funding – one could compare it to a skimming scheme that enriches and empowers folks in Washington to the detriment of those in state capitals across the country.  The states and private sector have proven more efficient users of taxpayer money, while the federal government through the Highway Trust Fund has wasted an unjustifiable amount of money through inefficiency, burdensome regulations, and distracting politicization—not to mention paying for the pet projects of lawmakers and special interests.

Not only is this legislation necessary if lawmakers want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of transportation spending, but it is also timely.  The original purpose of the HTF was to construct the interstate highway system, which was considered complete in the early 1990s.  But since then, Congresses—lobbied by special interests—have broadened its mission to cover “transit, environmental mitigation, ferry boats, bicycle paths, and nature trails,” which do not benefit those who pay for the program.  The Heritage Foundation also notes:

“The combination of overspending, inflation, increased vehicle fuel efficiency, and effects of the recession on gasoline consumption in recent years have caused funding shortfalls in the HTF. Rather than address its overspending problem, Congress chose to shore up the HTF with tens of billions of dollars in general fund cash transfers—an imprudent and unsustainable quick fix that worsens federal deficits.” 

This is an unsustainable course of action, which is why Congress is considering yet another bailout of the Highway Trust Fund.  What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office estimates another $167 billion in bailouts will be necessary over the next decade.  As a result, many states are “responding to the fiscal uncertainties in Washington,” transportation export Ken Orski recently noted:

“Surveys by the American Road and Builders Association (ARTBA), the National Council of State Legislatures and AASHTO and  have documented transportation-related revenue initiatives in 27 states.

“In turning to long-term credit to finance costly construction projects, states are following in the footsteps of  the private sector. All of the nation’s privately owned infrastructure— railroads, pipelines, telecommunications networks, power plants and refineries— are funded with loaned capital.” 

The Transportation Empowerment Act would allow each state to keep this so-called “federal money — which represents just one-quarter of all highway and transit spending — in their states and use them in ways they deem appropriate.  It would also provide states relief from federal regulations, allowing the money to go further so that they could put local priorities first and fund projects that provide congestion relief, capacity expansion, and enhanced mobility.

Heritage Action supports the Transportation Empowerment Act.

 

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Fast Facts: Transportation Empowerment Act

Transportation Empowerment Act

  • Empowers states to set transportation spending priorities and enables them to determine the best funding sources.
  • Transitions control from federal to state over a five-year period, avoiding disruption.
  • Lowers the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over the same time period; states would be free to increase their state gas taxes or find other funding mechanisms.
  • Reduces red tape, including the Davis–Bacon prevailing wage requirements and other federal mandates.
  • Enables greater private-sector participation in funding and financing capital-intensive projects

Heritage Research

Support From Others

  • “Shifting power toward taxpayers and their local and state governments is the right direction to take.” Kyle Wingfield, “End D.C.’s Highway Robberty,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • “Congress has created the perception that all states are enriched by federal largesse, while it has created uses the money to keep control over any state that might stray into finding innovative solutions.” Dennis Polhill, Senior Fellow, Independence Institute, “A Chance to Bring Transportation Power and Money Back to the States,” Denver Post, December 6, 2013, http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_24672758/chance-bring-transportation-power-and-money-back-states#ixzz2rc2kcg7Q.
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Conservatives Unite to Protect Religious Freedom

Heritage Action has joined with 15 conservative organization in demanding Congress file a disapproval of D.C.’s Reproductive Heath Nondiscrimination Amendment Act of 2014 and the Human Rights Amendment Act.

Religious Freedom is under attack in Washington, DC. Two newly signed bills could set a precedent for other local governments to intervene in the religious beliefs of Americans.

  • The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act: The bill forces pro-life employers in the District to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health plans.
  • The Human Rights Amendment Act: This bills forces educational organizations into promoting and condoning lifestyles, orientations, or belief that go against their religious convictions. Under the Human Rights Amendment Act, a religious school could be forced to host a gay pride day, “coming out” day, or support a student group dedicated to furthering LGBT activities.

This violation of religious liberty can be stopped by Congress voting to “disapprove” these bills.

Read the full letter below:

 

February 5, 2015
The United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Senator,

We, the undersigned, represent national and local religious institutions and organizations and pro-life advocacy organizations, all of which have offices in the District of Columbia, that serve and speak on behalf of millions of people across the United States. Most of us do not engage in the city’s legislative affairs, but we must do so now with one voice against two recently enacted laws that are unprecedented assaults upon our organizations. Both laws violate the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment and other federal law.

The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 prevents religious institutions, other faith-based employers, and pro-life advocacy organizations from making employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs or their moral and ethical views about the sanctity of human life. For example, the law requires our organizations to hire or retain individuals whose speech or public conduct contradicts the organizations’ missions, and could be read to require our organizations to subsidize elective abortions through their employee health plans. The law plainly violates the First Amendment, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), and possibly other federal laws and clearly contradicts the Supreme Court’s recent, unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Church and School v. EEOC.

The law would also infringe the right of expressive association for both religious and non-religious pro-life nonprofit organizations. New emergency and temporary legislation proposed by the Council of the District of Columbia may address constitutional deficiencies with regard to insurance coverage if the measures are enacted, but the measures fail to resolve the “serious concerns under the Constitution and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that the outgoing Mayor and D.C. Office of the Attorney General have acknowledged. 2 Defending this law would be a waste of federal
and local taxpayer funds.

The Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 requires religiously affiliated educational institutions to endorse, sponsor, and provide school resources to persons or groups that oppose the institutions’ religious teachings regarding human sexuality. In doing so, the law violates the First Amendment and RFRA on similar grounds.

Justices Alito and Kagan wrote in their concurrence in Hosanna-Tabor that “it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups… has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws.” While we will continue to serve the city and the nation, we cannot surrender the constitutional freedoms that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution rightly reserved to all of us.

Therefore we respectfully request that you disapprove both the Reproductive Health NonDiscrimination Amendment Act of 2014 and Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 during the congressional review period. Please take this opportunity to stand for religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

We thank you for your help in this important and urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Casey Mattox
Senior Counsel
Alliance Defending Freedom

Colby M. May
Senior Counsel
American Center for Law & Justice

John L. Schlageter, Esq.
General Counsel
Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA

Cynthia DeSimone Weiler
Chancellor and General Counsel
Archdiocese of Washington

John Garvey
President
The Catholic University of America

Penny Nance
CEO & President
Concerned Women for America

Phyllis Schlafly
Chairman
Eagle Forum

Dr. Russell Moore
President
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention

David Christensen
Vice President of Government Affairs
Family Research Council

Michael A. Needham
CEO
Heritage Action for America

Carl Anderson
Supreme Knight
Knights of Columbus

Jeanne Monahan
President
March for Life Education and Defense Fund

Leith Anderson
President
National Association of Evangelicals

Brian Brown
President
National Organization for Marriage

Anthony R. Picarello, Jr.
Associate General Secretary & General Counsel
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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Protecting Religious Freedom in D.C.

Status: The D.C. City Council is working to undermine religious liberties in its jurisdiction.  Two bills—both passed by the D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser—will saddle religious organizations and employers with a choice between upholding their beliefs as they perform their organizational missions or complying with a coercive government regulation that forces them to violate their beliefs and missions.

  • The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act: The bill would force pro-life employers in the District to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health plans. The Act could also force religious and pro-life employers opposed to abortion to hire openly pro-choice employees.  For private organizations to be required to hire someone with a viewpoint diametrically opposed to their core principles is a serious infringement on the right of free association.
  • The Human Rights Amendment Act: Also passed before Christmas, this bill eliminates a 1989 provision passed by Congress that protects religious educational organizations from being coerced into “promoting, encouraging, or condoning any homosexual act, lifestyle orientation, or belief.”  Under the Human Rights Amendment Act, a religious school could be forced to host a gay pride day, “coming out” day, or support a student group dedicated to furthering LGBT activities.  These infringements undermine a major reason why parents choose private schools over public schools: the fact that these institutions are often more harmonious with parents’ deeply held religious values.  The Amendment could also require these organizations to hire employees whose personal values conflict with longstanding religious doctrine.

Congress and the D.C. Government: Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District. Under that law, which remains in effect today, the D.C. City Council acts as a legislature for the district unless it is explicitly overruled by Congress.

Congressional Overrule: When D.C. passes a law, the City Council transmits the law to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.  Once the transfer is complete, a review period of roughly thirty days begins. If, within the review period, both houses of Congress pass a joint resolution disapproving the law, and the President signs the joint resolution, the D.C. law is overturned.  If he does not, the law goes into effect.

Call to Action: Religious freedom is a core American value.  Activists are encouraged to urge their representatives to use their authority over Washington, D.C.’s government to stop these intrusive and flawed laws from going into effect.

 

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FAST FACTS: Higher education reform and opportunity (Hero) act

HERO Act (Higher education reform and opportunity act) 

  • “The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act would not only make the cost of higher education more affordable, but also make it easier for students to customize their own education and gain the specific skills they need to compete in today’s economy,” Senator Lee, January 9, 2014.
  • Empowers states to develop their own accreditation systems to accredit colleges, individual courses within colleges, apprenticeship programs, and curricula.
  • Any state-accredited educational institution, program, or course would then be eligible for federal funding such as student loans.

Heritage Research

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