Among the many Republican capitulations we have witnessed over the past year, one of the most egregious is their willingness to support the Senate highway bill. We’ve chronicled the problems with the highway bill extensively in these pages over the past few months. Aside for the policy issues, the cost of the bill is most problematic because it will engender future bailouts.
The $109 billion 1522-page bill (S.1813), will outspend the gas tax revenue by $50 billion when extrapolated out for 5 years (the normal length of reauthorization bills). Republicans have all but agreed to the bill. They are just squabbling over the Keystone pipeline and over which notional “pay fors” will offset the annual deficits over 10 years.
Last July, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a bill that would cap spending at the level of revenue generated by the gas tax. At the time, we offered enthusiastic praise for the effort to change the rules of the road with the highway bill. Now, Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) is introducing a motion to instruct the conferees of the highway bill conference to do as Republicans had promised – to cap spending to gas tax revenues.
Broun’s motion, H.R. 4348 (which can be viewed at Politico), would require conferees to limit fiscal 2013 highway expenditures to $37.5 billion. Establishment Republicans will bloviate about the lack of funds for crumbling infrastructure. Well, there are two conservative solutions for that. They can either eliminate the $10 billion in annual spending for mass transit. That will leave sufficient funding for roads and bridges. Or we could opt for a bold contrast and rally behind Tom Grave’s Transportation Empowerment Act (H.R. 3264). This bill would gradually transition gas tax revenue to the states over a period of four years. By 2017, every state would keep 14.7 cents of the current federal gasoline tax, leaving 3.7 cents in the hands of the DOT for the purpose of national projects. That way, each state can have a fair debate about their transportation needs and fund their priorities accordingly.
While our ultimate goal should be devolution of transportation authority, the Broun proposal is a prudent way to block more deficit spending in the interim. Please call your representatives and request a yes vote on the Broun motion when it comes to the House floor today.