Transportation Empowerment Act opponents speak out

Lawmakers and stakeholders have stated their opposition to legislation introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., and Sen. Mike Lee, R.-Utah, known as the Transportation Empowerment Act, which calls for a significant reduction in the federal gas tax.

The Oregon Department of Transportation, and U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta, R.-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., have each stated their opposition to the legislation that calls for reducing the gas tax and giving states more say in how they spend federal transportation funds.

“I have serious concerns about these ideas,” Barletta said in emailed comments to TI News Daily. “The Constitution specifically provides federal authority for transportation. Without a national perspective on transportation, we would lose our competitive transportation advantage over other countries, and devolve into a piecemeal, patchwork transportation system that does not serve the nation as a whole. Likewise, I do not support the drastic reduction of the gasoline tax, as that would further erode the federal role in transportation construction.”

DeSantis has said the legislation modernizes the transportation funding process without constant patches to the Highway Trust Fund, while empowering states to fix their roads, bridges and infrastructure as they see fit. Lee said that because the interstate highway system was completed decades ago, drivers are buying less fuel, and that the federal government has wasted far too much money on non-highway projects.

The legislation gradually reduces the federal gasoline tax over five years from 18.3 cents a gallon to 3.7 cents, collecting enough revenue for the federal government to maintain interstate highways and transportation projects.

Blumenauer said in an emailed statement to TI News Daily that the policies called for by the bill would put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and make roads, bridges and transit systems less safe.

“The very local governments that this bill claims to benefit oppose it. States and local governments are instead calling for the type of strong federal partnership that a fully funded, long-term transportation bill would provide,” Blumenauer said.

Travis Brouwer, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said that while he appreciates the legislation attempting to reduce federal red tape, he’s concerned about any proposal that would have the federal government “throw in the towel.”

“In order to build a strong infrastructure system, we need a strong investment from the federal government,” Brouwer said. “Our (infrastructure) system is aging, and we need all levels of government to invest at strong levels to keep our system vibrant.”

Like other stakeholders, Brouwer said he fears states might not pick up the slack from the reduced tax, leading to further deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure system.

“In our state, we find that transportation is a key source of economic development and creates jobs, from the construction workers to the lawyers and accountants who work for construction companies," Brouwer said.

Brouwer said a recent analysis indicated that if funding levels remained the same, Oregon would lose approximately 100,000 jobs by 2035.

The offices of DeSantis and Lee did not respond to requests for comment.

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U.S. Representative Lou Barletta (PA-11)

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