Issue Profile: The Transportation Empowerment Act

Dec 07, 2011

It's not $4.00 per gallon, but the price of gas is still uncomfortably high for many Americans. Did you know that 18.4 cents per gallon worth of the price is because of a federal gas tax? (Oh, and your state also taxes your gasoline by an average of 30 cents per gallon.) The federal tax is sent to the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is used to maintain infrastructure across the country. In other words, the tax is sent to Washington so the Congress can decide where the money goes and how it is spent.

Efficient, huh?

The thing is, the trust fund has created a system of "donor" and "recipient" states. Donor states give more to the government in gas tax money than they receive, while recipient states receive more gas tax money than they pay in. Some of the poorest states in the country are also among the states labeled as "donor" - states like Missouri and Georgia. Georgia, for instance, has on average received about 84% of what it pays into the fund. "Recipient" states tend to be the richer states, like California and Massachusetts.

No American should be paying into a system that is supposed to help their state without getting a good return on their investment. But that's what the federal highway fund does, and it is why many conservatives believe it needs to be dismantled and returned to the states.

President Dwight Eisenhower first established the Highway Trust Fund in order to pay for the interstate highway system. The tax was supposed to be for 3 cents per gallon for 16 years, then drop to 1.5 cents per gallon in 1972. The tax never dropped, in fact, it increased, right up to the 18.4 cents it is today.

Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA), has introduced a bill that labels the interstate highway "complete," and ends the federal government's involvement. H.R.3264, the Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), would devolve the tax back to the states so that they could allot their funds as they see fit. Over a four year period, transportation authority would be shifted from the federal government and back to the states, and the gas tax would be reduced from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon. The states will be able to use these funds in order to address their needs, not the political whims of those in Congress.

According to The Heritage Foundation, in 2009, 38% of the funds from the Highway Trust Fund went to non-highway programs, such as beautification or animal "highways" for frogs (seriously, it's been done). When our debt is over $15 trillion, we can't afford frivolous expenditures like these. Motorists cannot afford it either.

Which is why the TEA Act is so important. It shifts power away from the federal government and back to the states. Our government needs to be shrunk, and this is a great first step.

Related Links:
5 Questions with Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA)
Congressional Profile: Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)