Some GOP Senators Want to Slash Gas Taxes — and Federal Highway Spending

Some GOP Senators Want to Slash Gas Taxes — and Federal Highway Spending

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz introduced a bill Tuesday that would dramatically reduce federal involvement in transportation systems in the U.S.

The Transportation Empowerment Act would slash federal fuel taxes and highway spending over five years while eliminating the Highway Transportation Fund mass transit account.

The federal government would maintain responsibility for the interstate highway system, but overall federal spending on transportation would start falling in 2019. The federal fuel tax would be cut from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon between 2021 and 2025, ultimately providing roughly $13 billion a year for the Highway Transportation Fund — a sharp drop from the current $40 billion. States would be left to determine on their own fuel tax levels and to find funding for mass transportation projects.

The legislation amounts to a broad attack on federal spending on infrastructure, claiming that the long-standing system of highway funding in the U.S. usurps state control while wasting “billions of hard-earned tax dollars on projects, programs, and activities that the States would not otherwise undertake.” The senators say they offer a “new policy blueprint to govern the Federal role in transportation” that recognizes “a strong interest in reducing the role of the Federal Government by allowing each State to manage its own affairs.”

The bill’s approach has little support among transportation groups, the Chamber of Commerce and state and local governments, most of whom would like to see federal fuel taxes raised in order to make up the chronic shortfall in money for the highway fund, the Bond Buyer notes. A similar bill introduced by Lee in 2015 failed to advance from the Senate Finance Committee.