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Senate Bill Would Allow States to Opt Out of Highway Programs

On July 28, 14 senators introduced a bill titled the "State Transportation Flexibility Act" that would allow state transportation departments to opt out of federal-aid highway and mass-transit programs.

States that opted out would be able to manage and spend the federal gas-tax revenue collected within their borders on transportation projects without federal mandates or restrictions. Most of the 14 senators are from "donor states," those who get less money back from the federal government than what they contribute.

The current extension of the surface transportation authorization is set to expire on Sept. 30 and a handful of conservative groups is eyeing the expiration as the next potential front in the tax and spending debate. The federal Highway Trust Fund – the largest source of cash for road improvements and mass transit – is funded by the 18.4 cent user fee paid on fuel. The authority to collect the fee also expires on Sept. 30.

Along with chief sponsor Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) are co-sponsors Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.); Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.); John Cornyn (R-Texas); Jim DeMint (R-S.C.); Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); Mike Lee (R-Utah); John McCain (R-Ariz.); Rand Paul (R-Ky.); Rob Portman (R-Ohio); and David Vitter (R-La). Last April, a similar measure, HR 1585, was introduced in the House of Representatives with 24 sponsors.

According to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, there is widespread concern that allowing states to opt out of the federal highway program could be the beginning of the end of the interstate system. The nation’s surface transportation system, which has made America the envy of the world and allowed for the free transportation of goods and services across the country, would become a patchwork and devolution would further damage the nation’s economy.