Transportation Federalism — and flexibility — proposed in new bill from Coburn, Lankford

 A bill giving greater authority and control over transportation funding was introduced in Congress yesterday, with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Muskogee and U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma City as leading proponents. Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley applauded the proposal, as did a representative of the state’s leading free market “think tank.”

According to a press release from advocates in the nation’s capital, “the State Transportation Flexibility Act would allow state transportation departments to opt out of the Federal-Aid Highway and Mass Transit programs. Instead, these states would be able to manage and spend the gas tax revenue collected within their state on transportation projects without federal mandates or restrictions.”

A total of of 14 members of the Senate and 24 members of the House of Representatives have joined as co-sponsors. Besides the pair of Oklahomans, supporters included Sens. John McCain of Arizona, David Vitter of Louisiana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Cornyn of Texas, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Daniel Coats of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rob Portman of Ohio. Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona is advocating for the bill in Congress, alongside Lankford.

In Oklahoma, a vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) immediately applauded the bill’s introduction.

In his statement, sent to CapitolBeatOK, Sen. Coburn said, “Washington’s addiction to spending has bankrupted the Highway Trust Fund. For years, lower-priority projects like earmarks have crowded out important priorities in our states, such as repairing crumbling roads and bridges.

“Instead of burdening states and micromanaging local transportation decisions from Washington, states like Oklahoma should be free to choose how their transportation dollars are spent. I have no doubt that Oklahoma’s Transportation Director Gary Ridley will do a much better job deciding how Oklahoma’s transportation dollars are spent than bureaucrats and politicians in Washington.”

Lankford applauded Coburn’s leadership in the matter, observing, “This has been one of my top priorities since coming to Congress, and I’m happy to join Senator Coburn in this effort. This bill is a giant step for states by increasing transportation flexibility while improving efficiency.

“By allowing states to opt-out of the federal bureaucracy, they will be able to take more control of their own resources. It will free Oklahoma to keep our own federal gas taxes and to fund new projects at our own discretion.”

Joel Kintsel, executive vice president at OCPA, told CapitolBeatOK, "I am so proud of the leadership shown by Senator Coburn and Congressman Lankford. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a broader effort by Congress to return to federalism and withdraw from areas of activity rightfully belonging to the States.”

 Sen. McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, said, “As a Federalist, I have long advocated that states should retain the right to keep the revenue from gas taxes paid by drivers in their own state. This bill would allow for this to happen and prevent Arizonans from returning their hard earned money to Washington. Arizonans have always received 95 cents or less for every dollar they pay federal gas taxes. This continues to be unacceptable, and for that reason I am a proud supported of the State Highway Flexibility Act.”

Sen. Vitter asserted, “It’s very apparent how badly Congress can mismanage tax dollars, especially the Highway Trust fund which has needed to be bailed out three times since 2008. The states know their transportation needs better than Congress, so let’s put them in the driver’s seat to manage their own gas tax.”

Hatch contended, “The federal government’s one-size-fits all transportation policies and mandates are wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and causing inexcusable delays in the construction of highways, bridges and roads in Utah and across the nation.

Sen. Cornyn said the Lone Star State can manage public transportation spending just fine, and the bill, “will provide Texas more flexibility to make transportation decisions locally and encourage innovative solutions to addressing our transportation infrastructure needs.

Kintsel, whose areas of focus for OCPA include constitutional and other legal policy issues, said, “Federalism is an indispensable check and balance between the States and the federal government and remains an important feature of our constitutional system. Unless it is a power expressly reserved by the Constitution to the federal government, Congress should not attempt to control the decisions of individual states. The more local decision making is eroded by an overbearing national government, the less freedom and ingenuity survives in states and local communities. In this instance, Oklahoma leaders will know how to use these transportation dollars far more efficiently than anyone outside of Oklahoma.

 “The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs applauds this move towards more federalism and is presently crafting a proposal to pursue federalism on a much larger scale. Under OCPA’s concept, federal dollars used for activities constitutionally reserved to the States will be returned to Oklahoma because the people, through their representatives in the Oklahoma Legislature, will know much better how to allocate resources within the State of Oklahoma.”