This was a vote was on an amendment that would have changed the way the federal government distributes funding for highway construction and maintenance to states. It would have required that every state’s share of federal highway funding be equal to the amount it contributed in taxes.
Federal highway funding comes from the federal gasoline tax. The tax is collected when drivers buy gas. It is distributed based on a formula that Congress determines.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), who offered the amendment, argued that this system is unfair because some states receive more than their fair share. Other states – often those represented by members of Congress less interested in pork barrel projects, he argued – end up being “donors” who get a share smaller than they deserve. He argued that a fairer process would require the federal government to distribute the funding so that each state got the proportion it contributed.
"The reality is that a majority of states, such as Indiana, my state, and many others do not receive their fair share of the distribution of highway funds,” Sen. Coats said. “A system of winners and losers is not the way we should go forward with distributing funds that are paid by our taxpayers for the building of roads and bridges.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who opposed the amendment, argued that the formula for distributing funding must take other factors into account, such as the miles of roadways each state has.
Sen. Coats’ amendment was defeated by a vote of 28-70. Voting “yea” were 24 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 49 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 21 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated Sen. Coats’ attempt to change the way the federal government distributes funding for highways.