Transportation Advocate: Devolution Proposals Doomed to Fail

Joshua L. Schank, president & CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, in his opinion piece “Myths Surrounding Devolution of Federal Transportation Programs,” makes a compelling case as to why devolution proposals are misguided.

“As the lame-duck session of Congress approaches, there is nascent optimism within the transportation community that perhaps this could be an opportunity to confront an ongoing funding problem,” said Schank.”Congress almost always disappoints optimists who hope that great things can be accomplished during lame ducks, On the other hand, Congressional leaders have likely grown tired of bailing out the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and are looking for any opportunity to implement a longer-term solution. Stranger things have happened.

“However, one of the obstacles to a long-term solution is that there are several members of Congress, backed by the Club for Growth, pushing a different solution: devolution. This idea, which is not new, seems like an easy way out. Rather than tackling the challenging problem of adequately maintaining our infrastructure, the federal government could simply push the problem down to the states. Eliminating the gas tax is generally a political winner, as is the idea of shrinking the federal government. Some elected officials in Congress might be tempted.

“They should probably know that although this may sound like a political winner, it has always failed because it ultimately fails the press release test. A Congressional office is not likely to issue a press release trumpeting the fact that a member of Congress helped eliminate federal funds for transportation in his or her district.

“There is no positive way to spin the ultimate result, and any member who desires re-election would see that (there are of course some members who do not care about re-election and would stand on principle, but these members remain a distinct minority). This is why the House of Representatives could not even muster enough votes, during the MAP-21 reauthorization, to cut spending to correspond to existing gas tax revenue levels.

“This means that devolution is more of a talking point to avoid taking effective action than it is an actual policy idea. But even as a talking point, devolution fails the smell test because it propagates several myths about federal transportation policy that need to be dispelled.

Read Schank’s three myths about federal devolution and his conclusions here.

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