Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced today during a meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) that he would offer an amendment to ensure that federal gas tax revenues intended for transportation are used only for transportation projects.
"The highest compliment I have been paid since I came up here is when someone said the problem with Lamar is that he hasn’t gotten over being governor,” Alexander told FHA Administrator James Ray at today’s hearing. “I consider that a high compliment. When I was governor, when we collected a gas tax we only used it for transportation projects. I resisted every effort to spend those taxes on other things. I want to have the same attitude as a senator that I had when I was governor. That is why I intend to offer an amendment that will prevent any funds for transportation from being taken away for other purposes.”
Alexander said that in Tennessee alone, more than $237.7 million has been taken from transportation funds since December 2005.
“We need to get back in the habit of using this money for its intended purpose, highway transportation projects, or else give it back to the taxpayers,” Alexander said “When the American people pay gas taxes, they expect that money to support transportation projects.”
Under current law, funds appropriated for federal highways projects can be removed to fund general government operations. Alexander plans to offer an amendment to the FY09 THUD Appropriations bill that would exempt transportation accounts that are funded by the federal gas tax from any future across-the-board cuts – sometimes referred to as “rescissions” – to keep state transportation projects like highway maintenance, bridge repair and road building up and running.
Alexander said that nearly 50% of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) budget comes from federal appropriations, and any reduction in that funding would have severe impacts on state transportation projects. According to TDOT, the most recent cut back of funds this past March will affect the following programs: Interstate Maintenance, the Highway Bridge Program, the National Highway System Program, the Surface Transportation Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), the Recreational Trails Program, and others.
Alexander has also called for the establishment of a highway efficiency standard that ranks the states according to who has the most efficient highways to pressure governors to clean up their highways and reduce traffic jams.