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Between a rock and a hard place

By Mike Joyce
OOIDA Director of legislative affairs

 

Over the past several years we have been working aggressively in Washington, DC, on behalf of small-business truckers to advocate a strong position on highway funding policy.

Our position continues to support the use of fuel taxes to fund the federal Highway Trust Fund, although some want to convince you that the fuel tax is dead and a “vehicle miles traveled,” or VMT, tax scheme is just around the corner.

We vehemently oppose the creation of additional toll roads, especially the conversion of existing highways, which have been paid for by highway users. For a trucker, a toll road is terribly more expensive per mile than a fuel tax.

We continue to rail against the diversion – or siphoning off – of trucker dollars to mass transit, high-speed rail and bicycle paths. This is a reasonable concern, given the fact that more than 36 percent of the Trust Fund money is provided by the trucking industry. Yet we make up less than 10 percent of the congestion on the nation’s highways.

Unfortunately, both the previous Bush administration and the current Obama administration want you to believe that the Trust Fund is broken. They have claimed that automobiles are more fuel efficient, that more people are driving hybrids, and that people are driving fewer miles because of the economy.

The fact is: The largest hit to the Trust Fund revenue stream is because of a lack of truck and trailer sales, and the associated 12 percent federal excise tax that is contributed to the Highway Trust Fund.

A rock. During the Bush administration we found ourselves locked in battle over the direction the secretary of transportation was taking in regard to funding highways. The secretary pushed to eliminate the federal role in transportation planning and funding, and replace it with a private sector ideology that would foster growth in toll roads and encourage the conversion of existing highway lanes to tolled facilities. Money generated from these toll roads would then become the profit of private investors, or be used to fund mass transit projects totally unrelated to the highway being tolled.

I dare to say, but even the most ardent supporter of limiting government involvement in our everyday lives can probably agree, that the federal government should be involved in the movement of commerce – in maintaining and expanding our existing interstate highway network.

A hard place. That was then, this is now. As the Senate continues to confirm appointees to the Obama administration’s Department of Transportation, it is evident that we will again have our work cut out for us.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is being surrounded by policy personnel who have previously worked for politicians and organizations that have a very different agenda from highway users and truckers. Several high-level appointees have been associated with Gov. Ed Rendell, the Building America’s Future coalition, and the Transportation for America organization.

As we know, the governor wanted to convert I-80 to a toll road in order to divert the revenue to mass transit in urban areas of Pennsylvania.

There are some principles of some of the coalitions sprouting up around Washington that we agree with. Who doesn’t agree with setting national priorities for how we spend taxpayer money or streamlining the way projects are developed from planning to completion? But we are leery of organizations masquerading as proponents for all transportation users while their true agenda is to use terms like a “Unified Trust Fund” to extract a larger percentage of funding from highway users to pay for transit, bicycle paths, and “livable communities.”

In reality, the plan is to take from one (truckers) and give to another (transit riders and bicyclists).

We are between a rock and a really hard place. We have another long four years in front of us but with your help educating lawmakers, we can be successful. LL

 

mike_joyce@ooida.com