This vote was on an amendment that would have transformed the way highways are funded and built in the United States. The amendment, offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), was aimed at taking responsibility for building and maintaining roads out of the hands of the federal government and leaving it up to state governments instead.
Sen. DeMint argued that the federal government’s role in maintaining the U.S. highway system is too large. The federal gasoline tax is the main source of funding for road construction. Sen. DeMint said this system is unfair because many states pay more in gasoline taxes than they receive in highway funding. In addition, the federal government’s involvement means “having to funnel the money through Washington's wasteful bureaucracy and some self-serving politicians,” Sen. DeMint said.
Sen. DeMint’s amendment would have slashed the federal gasoline tax from about 18 cents per gallon to just a few pennies per gallon. This funding would be used to pay for a much smaller number of highways. Responsibility for the rest of the nation’s roads would be left to state and local officials.
“It is time to get the Washington bureaucracy and costly regulations out of the way and empower States to be the primary decisionmakers for their own local and State infrastructure. My amendment allows for States to keep their gas taxes and set their own priorities while avoiding an additional layer of Washington bureaucracy,” Sen. DeMint said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said Sen. DeMint’s amendment would be “a disaster if it were to pass.” She argued it would damage the United States’ transportation system, and quoted former President Ronald Reagan saying the federal highway program “has enabled our commerce to thrive, our country to grow, and our people to roam freely.”
Sen. DeMint’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 30-67. Voting “yea” were 30 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 52 Democrats and 15 Republicans. As a result, the Senate rejected Sen. DeMint’s proposal to transfer responsibility for building and maintaining most U.S. highways from the federal government to state governments.