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A Letter in support of the “Corps of Engineers Reform Act” and the “Transportation Empowerment Act”

May 24, 2011
The Honorable Jim DeMint
United States Senate
167 Russell Senate Office Buildings
Washington, DC 20510


Dear Senator DeMint,

On behalf of the 362,000 members of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I write in support of two pieces of legislation you have introduced to streamline and reform funding for the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal highway program. Together the “Corps of Engineers Reform Act” and the “Transportation Empowerment Act” represent positive steps toward the goal of eliminating the need for wasteful earmarks and granting states the flexibility necessary to meet critical needs.

NTU has long described earmarks as the equivalent of habit-forming substances that lead to even more detrimental fiscal behaviors. In embracing an earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress, the House and Senate both took an urgently needed step to stop this destructive money chase and focus on balancing the federal budget. Nevertheless, several areas of the budget process remain vulnerable to funding projects based on politics rather than merit. Your legislation reforms two of these weak points – the federal highway program and the Army Corps of Engineers – to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent wisely and efficiently.

The Transportation Empowerment Act would devolve federal highway and mass transit programs to the states, allowing local planners, who often better understand their areas’ transportation and infrastructure needs to prioritize how money will be spent. At the very least planners who don’t understand these needs could be held more directly accountable by citizens who have a more immediate stake in fiscal outcomes. This bill would gradually reduce the federal gas tax rate from its current level of 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon in 2017, allowing Washington to continue core highway programs while freeing states to develop innovative approaches to infrastructure without federal micromanagement.

The Corps of Engineer Reform Act applies the same principle - providing states the financial flexibility to optimize the use of tax dollars - to the Corps infrastructure. By requiring that all Corps projects be prominently published and creating a commission to establish priorities, this bill creates the reform necessary to eliminate the backlog of authorized projects, many of which are outdated, unnecessary, and focus on parochial interest rather than national need. Furthermore, this bill would transform the disbursement system for harbor maintenance taxes into a block grant to prevent the federal government from substituting political desires for the actual infrastructure needs of the states. 

While the earmark moratorium has helped to clean up some of the most egregious waste littering Washington’s budgetary landscape, these bills represent logical next steps. NTU endorses the Transportation Empowerment Act and the Corps of Engineers Reform Act and any roll call votes on this legislation will be significantly weighted in our annual Rating of Congress.


Brandon Greife
Federal Government Affairs Manager


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