Having reviewed the prepared testimony of the witnesses here today, I noticed overriding themes supporting the greater participation by state and local planners in spending federal transportation dollars. Recognizing ISTEA, for the first time, provided for their active participation in transportation planning, I understand the witnesses support for continuing this legislation.
However, I depart from the position of the Administration and some in the transportation community in my belief that ISTEA wasn't an end goal in transportation planning, it was merely the long overdue first step in returning power and decision making back to state and local planners. I believe we should not be content with the status quo, but should work toward providing even greater authority to state and local transportation planners.
Many in this room may be aware of a proposal I have introduced, the Transportation Empowerment Act, which would devolve most transportation programs away from the federal Government and back to the states. I have introduced this legislation because I believe we can best meet our national transportation goals by freeing states and local planners to make transportation decisions which are best suited to their particular needs.
I should point out that both transportation economists and State Secretaries of Transportation have estimated the equivalent of a 20% increase in transportation funding if the federal middleman, the mandates, and the restrictions which accompany federal dollars were eliminated. So, even though the budget may not allow greater transportation funding, removing Washington from the equation will provide more transportation projects for the dollars we do have.
For instance, over the last six years, if states had replaced the federal gas tax with a state tax, the resulting increase in purchasing power would have provided an additional $20 billion in highway and transit systems. Once again, just by changing the point of collection, the taxpayer would get substantially more for their money.
Proponents of ISTEA favor the existing authorization because it: 1) provides states flexibility; 2) encourages public participation; 3) emphasizes intermodal issues; and, 4) promotes environmentally sound projects. However, I do not know which of these the states can't do for themselves.
Regardless, I am sure we will witness an energetic debate when the transportation
reauthorization bill comes to the Senate floor. I look forward to working, with the
Senator from New York as this committee prepares its recommendation for the
transit portion of this bill.
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