Guest Column
Defeating toll taxes: One more effort needed
U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-MN, makes the case against mandatory toll taxes on U.S. interstate highways; meanwhile, OOIDA members need to play a crucial role in defeating tolling measures now under consideration by highway bill conferees.

by Rep. Mark Kennedy

We all know the statistics: Traffic congestion costs the United States more than $67 billion annually; 6 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel are wasted annually; 3.6 billion hours are idled away; and, for the average person, this means $1,160 and 62 hours lost to congestion. For truckers, the backbone of our economy, the problem is much more serious.

Rep. Mark Kennedy

In Congress, I have worked to find market-based solutions to our transportation needs. One thing is clear: We cannot tax our way out of traffic. To that end, I introduced a bill — the Freeing Alternatives for Speedy Transportation (FAST) Act — that is capable of constructing billions of dollars of new roads.

The FAST approach will give drivers something they don’t have now: choice. If drivers want to get where they are going faster, they can choose to pay to use the new lanes. If not, they will be able to stay on the existing highway lanes their gas taxes have already paid for. Transportation can offer choices, and needn’t rely on taxes or mandatory tolls.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the thousands of OOIDA members who called, wrote and e-mailed members of Congress, the House of Representatives passed my amendment, which guaranteed that tolling will not be a double tax on road users.

However, there is still one more battle that lies before us.

In what is known as a conference committee, Congress will have to work out the differences between what the House passed and what the Senate passed in its road bills. The stakes are huge.

The language passed by the Senate, to be concise, is cause for concern. In many ways, the Senate took the opposite approach. The Senate would permit tolls to be collected indefinitely — the House requires that tolls be temporary.

Under the House FAST language, tolls can be collected only to finance new capacity, while the Senate would permit tolls to be collected to pay for everything from historic wooden covered bridges to light rail transit. The House requires that tolls be collected only on new capacity, but the Senate would permit them to be collected on existing lanes — lanes that drivers have already paid for with gas taxes.

The differences are vast and the consequences are enormous.

We already know that tolling language will be included in the road bill. The question is, will the interests of road users shape the debate, or not? Will tolls enable the construction of new capacity that gets us moving again, or will tolls be used as a new tax on highways built with the gas tax?

You will have an important say in answering these questions.

As Congress moves forward on the highway bill, I urge you to stay involved in the process. Please call, write, fax and e-mail your representatives and senators, and demand that the House FAST language on tolling be kept. With your help, we prevailed in the House, and we can do it again in the conference committee.

Thanks for all you do.