WASHINGTON D.C. — Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, unveiled a proposal for improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure earlier this month, and the idea is starting to gain momentum in his home state.
The plan, dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act, or TEA, promises to shift the responsibility of neglecting the nation’s roads and railways from the federal government to state and local authorities.
“Transportation infrastructure is one of the things government is supposed to do,” Lee wrote on his congressional website.
But Lee thinks the federal government has become too bureaucratic to properly mismanage the country’s dangerously unkempt transportation system.
“A real solution,” Lee noted, “involves building more roads. More roads, bridges, lanes, and mass-transit systems. Properly planned and located, these projects would help create new jobs, new communities, more affordable homes, shorter commuting times, and greater opportunity for businesses and families.”
But with real solutions out of fashion in Congress, Lee’s TEA has instead boldly offered to dramatically reduce taxes and not fund anything new.
Under TEA, the federal government would trim the federal gas tax, which pays for national road and bridge negligence, from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents.
“At that point, all 50 states will be empowered to meet their diverse transportation needs, free to experiment and innovate in the financing, construction, and planning of their transportation networks,” Lee said.
So far, many Utah lawmakers have lauded the idea.
“I think you’ll find that every state, including Utah, is always anxious to take on new responsibilities that the federal government doesn’t want anymore,” said Republican state Sen. Ralph Okerlund.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes was particularly intrigued by Lee’s suggestion that, without federal authorities in the way, the states wouldn’t have to pay for needless labor regulations or environmental studies in the process of planning irresponsibly shoddy transportation infrastructure projects.
“Utah knows what’s best for Utah,” he said. “We got over $200 million from the federal government for transportation in 2013. I am convinced that we can do a better job of not funding necessary government functions, and we’ll do it for hundreds of millions of dollars fewer.”
When asked how other states felt about TEA, Lee claimed that he had talked to all the states and that they were “totally cool” with the idea of the federal government “not doing stuff.”