Nudged by radio host, Gardner says he supports turning “Dept. of Transportation back to the states”

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)



Egged on by radio-host Amy Oliver, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) revealed Friday that he favors plans that “would basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states.”

Oliver, who hosts the “Amy Oliver Show” on KFKA 1310-AM in Greeley, told Gardner that Colorado should keep most of its federal gasoline tax, so “we don’t have to beg or anything like that.”

The sentiment apparently struck a nerve in Gardner, who ran with Oliver’s suggestion:

“Well, I think there are some great ideas that would basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states, because why do we have this system that says, hey, we’re going to just have you collect money, and we’re going to scrape some off the top. I mean, it makes no sense to have this middleman treated the way it is.”

You’d expect Oliver, who works at the right-leaning Independence Institute, to favor dismantling the Department of Transportation.

But when a U.S. Congressman like Gardner jumps on board, you’d think even Oliver would recognize that she owes it to you, me, and her audience to extract more details from him. Instead, she went, as planned, to a commercial break, Gardner disappeared, and the topic was dropped.

So, what would turning over the Department of Transportation to the states mean?

I asked former Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena for a reaction to Gardner’s notion.

“At first blush it may seem to be an attractive idea to let the states control their own funding, but the reality is that there is a real need to have a national highway system that supports our economy and contributes to our national security,” Pena said, adding that a national entity is needed to provide oversight so that transportation systems from coast to coast run smoothly and support economic development.

“I guess one could say every state should fund its own airports, but we could not have built Denver International Airport without $500 million from FAA,” Pena said. The FAA is part of the Dept. of Transportation.

DIA was not built just to benefit Colorado, Pena said, but to help the nation’s airports run more smoothly. Backups at Denver’s old airport, Stapleton, were causing inefficiencies and backups at airports nationwide, Pena pointed out, and it was clear DIA would remedy these problems.

“There was a national need to build DIA,” Pena told me.

The Department of Transportation has played this role, identifying and addressing national transportation needs, including those of less populated regions, since its inception, Pena argued. This role extends beyond airports and highways to ensuring that pipelines and other transportation systems are efficient and meet national safety standards. (Here’s a summary of the Department of Transportation’s responsibilities.)

“I don’t think he’s [Rep. Gardner] done his homework or analyzed his position very closely, because it [dismantling DOT] would have terrible consequences for national security and for our economy,” said Pena, who also served as Secretary of Energy.

On the radio, Gardner didn’t seem to care about national concerns:

“But if you look at the broader picture of transportation in general, Colorado gets less than a dollar for every dollar of tax dollars it sends in for the package of highway systems. So we are a net loser when it comes to sending a dollar in and getting less than a dollar back.”

Neither Gardner’s Office nor Amy Oliver returned calls for comment.

Listen to Gardner’s views on the Department of Transportation 12 minutes into the Aug. 5 podcast here. A partial transcript follows:

Oliver: I want to ask you about this. It really gets to the philosophy of what the proper function of government should be. Why on Earth should someone from Mississippi, why should federal tax money from any other state, Mississippi, Main, Missouri, Ohio, anybody, have to pay for a runway here in northern Colorado?

Gardner: Well, it really goes to the heart of what’s happening now in the bigger discussion on whether or not we should be trying to do all things for all people. I mean, certain people in the aviation industry do pay user fees to land. They do pay av tax on their aviation fuel. And that comes back to the airport and helps fund projects like the runway extension. But if you look at the broader picture of transportation in general, Colorado gets less than a dollar for every dollar of tax dollars it sends in for the package of highway systems. So we are a net loser when it comes to sending a dollar in and getting less than a dollar back.

Oliver: Well, we actually get less than that because they have their overhead that they have to do.

Gardner: You’re right. The middleman. They just kind cut it off. There’s states like Wyoming that get more money. Alaska gets more money. So the question is, how does this continue and how can we continue it when people are struggling to make ends meat as it is, and we have a government that’s far beyond its means.

Oliver: Let me ask you something, and this might be getting back a little bit to your state capital days. Couldn’t we do something with our federal gasoline tax and just say, hey listen, you guys, what is the federal gasoline tax, I think it’s 18 cents a gallon, we’ll give you two cents. Let us just keep the rest. That way we don’t have to beg or anything like that. We just keep it here in Colorado.

Gardner: Well, I think there are some great ideas that would basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states, because why do we have this system that says, hey, we’re going to just have you collect money, and we’re going to scrape some off the top. I mean, it makes no sense to have this middleman treated the way it is.

Follow Jason Salzman on Twitter @bigmediablog.

28 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    Having it at the federal level turns it into a lottery where you get items like the bridge to nowhere.

    • Gorky PulviczekG Pulviczek says:

      …hand over the interstate transport of your company’s products to intransigent legislatures?

      Even if you distribute electronically, there is a very significant federal component to the Internet.

      States look out for their own interests – naturally.  The federal government should look after the interests of the country as a whole.

      This talk of “pushing it back to the states” is just a back door dishonest way of getting various programs cut altogether.  

      • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

        Insuring we have a good interstate system definitely belongs at the federal level. But funding a bridge to an island in Alaska or buying new buses for a city – I don’t see how that makes sense at the federal level.

        • Fidel's dirt nap says:

          that would just be awesome for organized safe air travel.  High powered thinking Cory.

        • NoCo_Indy says:

          … I’m actually going to defend the bridge.

          The “Bridge to Nowhere” was to connect an Alaskan city with its airport via road, instead of ferry. Yes, it was a dubious project based on the current traffic count for the airport, but with a more convenient route, it would likely have increased the traffic into the airport greatly and allowed a wilderness town to develop. It’s akin to this state’s “road to nowhere”: a four lane, interstate-quality road named after a former transportation secretary that goes to rural Adams County.

          For both it and the “bridge to nowhere,” an airport is the destination.

          Wow. Feel like Clarence Darrow now, defending the unpopular.

          • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

            But can’t that be balanced out against other needs better at the state level? Under the present system we compete with Alaska for that money. And so both states are focused on grabbing the maximum amount of money, not weighing out which projects make the most sense.

  2. thiokuutoo says:

    More sh$t about states taking over national funding. Let’s just get rid of the Air Force because the states can handle their own air defenses. Let’s get rid of the EPA, let the states determine how radioactive their waters should be.

    Another time, say pre-2000, an idiotic, and stupid response from any of these self-imposed ignorant Republicans would have been laughed out of the country.

    Now, the United States has fallen so far that a Gardner is elected to federal office and given a platform to work hard at turning the U.S. into a banana republic. They are doing quite well at that right now too.

  3. ajb says:

    Gardner was asked a question about which he knows little. So, he replies with a talking point: return federal tax dollars to the states and shrink the federal govt. It required no thought above stringing together some well-worn phrases. It pleases the host. It pleases the audience. It’s what you expect on right-wing radio.

  4. NoCo_Indy says:

    Why have transportation funding at the state level? Why should I have to pay for a road in Yuma County? I don’t go there. Let their own residents pay for any road improvement out there. The market will decide whether it’s important to have a paved road between Brush and the Kansas border.

  5. jbowen43 says:

    Cory Gardner is clueless about how government works or even what it is supposed to do. To  turn over a key component of our national security infrastructure to the states would be nuts.

  6. dwyer says:

    There is a a movement, called the “10th Amendment Movement”

    to restrict the power of the federal government by turning over functions to the individual states:  From the NYTimes article “States Rights a Rallying Cry for legislators.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03

    Alabama, Tennessee and Washington are considering bills or constitutional amendments that would assert local police powers to be supreme over the federal authority, according to the Tenth Amendment Center, a research and advocacy group based in Los Angeles.

    Find out more about the Movement at:

    http://www.tenthamendmentcente

    Treating Gardner and Oliver as conservatives trading talking points is simplistic, IMHO.  The questions to be pursued included:

    Where does Gardner stand on the “10th Amendment Movement?”  Is he a member?

    How involved is the Independence Institute in promoting the “10th Amendment Movement?”  Caldera, the President of same, goes ape s#&t over any mode of transportation that doesn’t begin and end with a horse and a gun….

    See, Jason, treating right wing radio as just another media source and then looking at its statements rationally without delving into the  context, gives it  credibility. That is my constant objection to your mode of reporting.

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