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8/1/2005
SPECIAL REPORT: Highway Bill awaits Bush OK without fuel surcharge

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the Highway Bill during the weekend, leaving just one step before it becomes law. President Bush is expected to sign the bill sometime this week.

In the meantime, a 12th temporary extension is in effect that keeps the funding from the 1998 bill in place until the new one becomes law.

Unfortunately for truckers, the bill does not include the mandatory fuel surcharge legislation that was included in the House version of the bill earlier this year.

The American Trucking Association is claiming responsibility for killing the fuel surcharge amendment.

In a press release, the ATA claimed that it "successfully blocked a mandatory fuel surcharge that would have increased consumer costs for everything shipped by truck."

Apart from the fuel surcharge, the bill does contain a number of other issues of concern for truckers. These include:

  • Updated rules on the transportation of hazardous materials;
  • New rules for diabetic drivers who use insulin;
  • An updated version of the Unified Carrier Registration system; and
  • Various CDL training programs, including a learner's permit program and grants for states to improve their CDL programs.

Land Line will provide detailed coverage of these and other areas of the Highway Bill throughout the week on this Web site and on "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio's Channel 171.

In other news, the bill, which calls for $286.5 billion in federal funding for highway and safety projects through 2009, has drawn sharp criticism for the amount of funding given to pet projects in the home districts of some congressional members.

The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste slammed the bill, claiming in a news release that it was little more than "another example of lawmakers catering to special interests."

Among other things, the group cited $230 million earmarked for a bridge connecting tiny Gravina Island, AK, (population: 50) with mainland Alaska. The group also cited tax breaks in various areas that have little to do with transportation, such as an income tax credit for distilled spirits wholesalers and a cap on the excise tax on certain fishing equipment.

And Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, also had sharp criticism for the bill, calling Congress to task for including such non-transportation-related items as money for improvements to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NY, as well as funding for the operation of Midway Airport in Chicago.

"This monstrosity of a conference report - which costs an astounding $286.4 billion - is both terrifying in its fiscal consequences and disappointing for the lack of fiscal discipline it represents," McCain said in a statement.

-By Terry Scruton, senior writer
terry_scruton@landlinemag.com

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