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Categorized | Voices and Views

Pearce Points

By Rep. Tom Pearce

What if…?

The advent of the federal highway system in the 1950s brought a new set of problems and solutions to both federal and state governments. A network of high speed, cross country roads would connect cities nationwide and lead to unprecedented economic growth in the post war years.

As the highway system began taking shape, federal gas taxes were implemented to help pay for the massive undertaking.  States with higher populations and a larger tax base were required to pay more federal gas tax dollars to subsidize the building of the federal highway system in less populated states.  This was understandable at the time since all states needed to be included in the national highway system.

However, in 1991, Congress declared the interstate highway system complete, but the federal gas tax has lived on.  Michigan has received as little as 87 percent and as high as 94 percent of the share of the federal gas tax revenue generated by the state – making Michigan a “donor” state.   In 2009, for every dollar we sent to Washington we received 92 cents back.   In effect, Michigan has subsidized transportation projects in other states to the detriment of our state infrastructure and in disproportion to our contribution to the national economy.

Not only do we pay more into the federal gas tax coffers than we receive, the federal government also has a complicated formula whereby the states must provide 20 percent in matching funds in order to receive our federal gas tax dollars. Also important to note is that only about 60 percent of the federal fuel taxes paid by motorists go to roads – much of the rest is eaten up in individual earmarks or additional pork projects.  This makes the Federal Highway Trust Fund one of the biggest line items available for pork spending in the entire federal budget.
What if all fifty states and their congressional delegations questioned the authority of the federal government, under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to collect a federal gas tax from each state and then hold the dollars hostage by requiring each state to provide matching funds to receive those dollars back?
Furthermore, what if the federal government adopted a policy whereby all but one percent of federal gas tax monies collected in each state remained in the state? One percent of the dollars collected could be designated to maintain the federal highway system in less populated states. The remaining 99 percent could be kept by states to maintain the federal highways within their borders and allocated for any other state transportation purposes at the discretion of each state. This would eliminate the issue of “donor” states and keep all but one percent of the federal gas tax funds in each state.

To contact Rep. Pearce, email tompearce@house.mi.gov, telephone (517) 373-0218 or toll free: (888) 414-3684.

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