By now, every intelligent lawmaker has come to the realization that our crumbling infrastructure needs a desperate infusion of resources if we want to ward off disaster. Democratic leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders and President Obama are calling on the federal government to increase spending, but two Republicans think they have come up with a much better idea: completely defund the interstate highway system by eliminating the gas tax.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act, nicknamed the TEA Act, last month. The bill would terminate the gas tax that funds federal transportation projects and turn the responsibility of maintaining the interstates over to the states.
What could possibly go wrong?
Senator Lee explained why he is attacking the federal interstate system in a statement:
“The federal government’s Highway Trust Fund is broke and another year of band aid funding is not going to fix it. The Interstate Highway System was completed decades ago, drivers are buying less gas, and the federal government has wasted far too much money on non-highway projects. It is just an outdated system that is long overdue for reform.”
The reason the Highway Trust System is broken is because Republicans refuse to fund it! They have consistently attacked transportation funding and then they have the audacity to wonder why they are having trouble paying for it. The current transportation funding is set to expire at the end of the month and lawmakers are trying to figure out how to cover a $16 billion shortfall. However, completely eliminating the funding is an insane idea which has been opposed by both parties before. That’s not stopping these brilliant right-wingers; Rep. DeSantis agrees with Senator Lee and claimed the system would be better off if left to the states.
“American communities face a variety of transportation needs and it makes little sense to have Washington, DC serve as a bureaucratic middleman for basic projects,” DeSantis said. “I am proud to join with Sen. Lee and offer modern reforms to our nation’s transportation policy through the Transportation Empowerment Act. Giving states the flexibility to tackle their own infrastructure needs will lower costs while improving responsiveness to the problems unique to each community.”
It’s hilarious that DeSantis thinks the states would do a better job caring for the interstates than the federal government. The Congressman is from Florida; a state who almost faced a government shutdown last month because Republicans in the House and Senate got into a fight with each other over the budget. How in the world would these people find money to pay for roads, when they can’t even find money to pay for healthcare?
If the gas tax was eliminated and power was handed over to the states one of two things would happen: Either the state governments would fight with each other and the interstates would be destroyed or they would pass the upkeep off to private companies. It is actually more likely that the lawmakers in red states– like Florida–would privatize the roads, charge commuters huge tolls, and do the minimum maintanence required. In 2012, lawmakers Congressman John Mica (R – FL) said as much when he proposed privatizing roads as away to “save money.”
This latest move to eliminate funding for the interstate highway system and hand the control over to the states is just another thinly veiled attempt to pump money into the Republican Party’s corporate donors’ pockets. We all know, very well, that the minute the federal government allows states to have control over something this large, all hell breaks loose. While they start privatizing the roads, we’ll be driving through huge potholes and people will lose their lives because Republicans are incapable of taking care of anything.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.