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.