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


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


DearSenator DeMint,

Onbehalf of the 362,000 members of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I write insupport of two pieces of legislation you have introduced to streamline andreform funding for the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal highway program.Together the “Corps of Engineers Reform Act” and the “TransportationEmpowerment Act” represent positive steps toward the goal of eliminating theneed for wasteful earmarks and granting states the flexibility necessary tomeet critical needs.

NTUhas long described earmarks as the equivalent of habit-forming substances thatlead to even more detrimental fiscal behaviors. In embracing an earmarkmoratorium for the 112th Congress, the House and Senate both took anurgently needed step to stop this destructive money chase and focus onbalancing the federal budget. Nevertheless, several areas of the budget processremain vulnerable to funding projects based on politics rather than merit. Yourlegislation reforms two of these weak points – the federal highway program andthe Army Corps of Engineers – to ensure that taxpayer money is being spentwisely and efficiently.

TheTransportation Empowerment Act would devolve federal highway and mass transitprograms to the states, allowing local planners, who often better understandtheir areas’ transportation and infrastructure needs to prioritize how moneywill be spent. At the very least planners who don’t understand these needscould be held more directly accountable by citizens who have a more immediatestake in fiscal outcomes. This bill would gradually reduce the federal gas taxrate from its current level of 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon in2017, allowing Washington to continue core highway programs while freeingstates to develop innovative approaches to infrastructure without federalmicromanagement.

TheCorps of Engineer Reform Act applies the same principle - providing states thefinancial flexibility to optimize the use of tax dollars - to the Corpsinfrastructure. By requiring that all Corps projects be prominently publishedand creating a commission to establish priorities, this bill creates the reformnecessary to eliminate the backlog of authorized projects, many of which areoutdated, unnecessary, and focus on parochial interest rather than nationalneed. Furthermore, this bill would transform the disbursement system for harbormaintenance taxes into a block grant to prevent the federal government fromsubstituting political desires for the actual infrastructure needs of thestates. 

Whilethe earmark moratorium has helped to clean up some of the most egregious wastelittering Washington’s budgetary landscape, these bills represent logical nextsteps. NTU endorses the Transportation Empowerment Act and the Corps ofEngineers Reform Act and any roll call votes on this legislation will besignificantly weighted in our annual Rating of Congress.


FederalGovernment Affairs Manager


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