Statehouse Primer

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

As long as we rely on roads and bridges to get from Point A to Point B, transportation funding will be debated in state legislatures across the country. It is widely acknowledged that every state needs more revenue to address a seemingly endless backlog of basic maintenance and new construction projects. While most elected officials agree that something must be done to ensure that our transportation network is safe and efficient, there is little consensus or appetite to actually do anything.

It's always an adventure to see how state lawmakers will attempt to address this issue. Take for example Missouri, Rhode Island and California.

Earlier this year, Missouri state Sen. Doug Libla introduced legislation, SB540, to increase Missouri's fuel tax from 17 to 23 cents per gallon. The increase would be phased in over two years. If enacted, Missouri's gas and diesel tax rates would remain identical. The generated revenue would be used for roads and bridges - and other funding options (i.e., tolls, VMT tax, etc.) could, at least in theory, be avoided. It was a modest and equitable proposal that enjoyed significant support from stakeholders, including OOIDA.

However, the politics of a few prevailed and the bill was reluctantly amended multiple times. The final product called for increasing the diesel tax by 3.5 cents and the gas tax by 1.5 cents. In addition, the state would have been given additional authority to toll I-70. As a result, we withdrew our support, the bill was killed, and Missouri is no closer now than it was years ago to addressing its current and future infrastructure needs.

Moving west, California state Sen. Ben Allen and Assemblyman David Chiu recently introduced legislation. To increase the sales tax on diesel fuel (i.e., to tax truckers) to further finance public transit projects. No, this is not a misprint. Keep in mind that California already has one of the highest effective diesel tax rates, diverts large amounts of revenue generated from highway users to non-highway projects, and has a shortfall of tens of billions of dollars in road and bridge needs.

OOIDA has contacted all California state lawmakers to highlight the absurdity of these proposals, and we remain cautiously optimistic that it was self-evident to the majority of them.

We will, of course, continue to monitor this issue closely and encourage elected officials to support transportation funding policies that are sustainable and will actually do something to address the state's road and bridge needs. Hopefully efforts like this one will run out of fuel - pun intended.

This summer in New England, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo released a "truck only" tax proposal. In short, the governor's plan to generate new transportation revenue called for a series of tolls that would be imposed exclusively on trucks, though more specific details were not readily available. Apparently, the governor believes small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers don't pay their fair share.

We reminded the governor that truckers are subject to a number of taxes; Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, International Fuel Tax Agreement, Unified Carrier Registration, 12 percent federal excise tax on the purchase of new tractors and trailers, International Registration Plan, and so on. We also emphasized safety concerns, such as commercial trucks diverting to toll-free roadways that are less capable of supporting heavy vehicles. We stressed that existing highway dollars should be used for more road and bridge projects, and we questioned whether or not the state actually has authority to impose tolls and still be in compliance with federal transportation law. We have yet to receive a response from Gov. Raimondo.

Some states will do the right thing and others will not, but that is simply the nature of politics. We will continue to do our best to make sure your interests on this issue and many others are represented in state capitals.

Thank you for supporting OOIDA and allowing us to work on your behalf. LL