Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and 11 more Senate Republicans have introduced legislation which would empower states to free themselves from “wasteful mandates and heavy-handed interference from the federal government” by enabling them to opt out of the Federal-Aid Highway and Mass Transit Account (MTA) programs.
Under the current system, the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) often spends more than it receives in user taxes, which has resulted in Congress bailing out the fund three times since fiscal year 2008 for a total of $35 billion. Hatch said a large part of the problems with the fund is due to the fact that Congress keeps expanding the type of projects eligible for HTF revenues. Further exacerbating matters, Congress often links the release of the funds to mandates – beautification projects, museums and landscaping projects, for example – that are unrelated to transportation needs. This causes significant delays and drives up the cost of transportation projects.
States opting out of the HTF under the State Transportation Flexibility Act would give up their annual authorization from that fund in exchange for their share of the 18.3 cents per gallon federal gas taxes collected within their boundaries. The states would then be free to use that money to set and finance their own transportation priorities, subject only to their pledge to abide by certain federal safety and maintenance standards.