Utah League of Cities and Towns

Making Life BETTER

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R) – Federal Transportation Funding

The writing is on the wall. The federal government is going broke. With record deficits, unprecedented borrowing, a poor economy and a growing number of retirees expecting promised benefits, deep spending cuts will be the unfortunate reality for the foreseeable future.

Fighting to hold the line on current spending levels will ultimately be a losing battle. Pressure on the federal budget will only grow in the coming years as mandatory spending commitments such as Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the national debt crowd out discretionary spending line items like transportation.

The most stable path forward lies in reducing Utah’s dependence on federal spending. Staking the future of our transportation infrastructure on a federal government that borrows 36 cents of every dollar spent is a fool’s bet. We have a better alternative.

HR 1737 provides a method to replace federal dollars with local ones. The bill allows states to opt out of most of their federal excise tax obligation (the gas tax) and replace it with corresponding increases in state and local gas tax revenue. A second approach, introduced in HR 1585, would require that gas tax revenues generated in a state must remain in that state. Either approach would be an improvement over the status quo, but I favor HR 1737.

Although Utah generally receives about the same amount in federal gas tax revenues as we contribute, those federal dollars don’t buy as much as local dollars. Once we factor in the federal strings attached in the form of wage requirements and increased studies on capacity projects, a federal dollar only spends about 85 cents of a state dollar. As a result, Utah would actually see a net gain in transportation funding by collecting the same amount locally that we now send to Washington.

The current practice of supplementing federal tax dollars with general fund dollars is not sustainable. While proponents claim that such a practice may generate additional jobs, history has shown again and again that federal stimulus does not measurably impact the overall economy. Moreover, while I support transportation funding to build infrastructure that allows for movement of goods, services, and employees which is essential for economic development, I do not support using federal transportation dollars as a means to create federal jobs programs. While government has a significant role in infrastructure, the private sector is more capable at creating jobs.

The federal government played a vital role in the creation of the Interstate Highway System. However, the system is largely built out, and the states are capable of maintaining and expanding the system. Additionally, due to the seriousness of the federal budget situation, states must become more dependent upon their own revenue sources.

Get to know you questions:

What city do you live in and why do you enjoy living there?
My family and I live in Alpine, Utah. We love being outdoors and living up against the mountains is perfect for us. Alpine has a strong sense of the community that our family enjoys.

What is your favorite collegiate sports team in the state?
We enjoy the BYU-UofU rivalry, but nothing beats a good roller derby match.