SPECIAL REPORT: Cross-border trucking program funding in jeopardy

| 2/26/2009

Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 – With a new administration and a new Congress in place, a recent vote by the House of Representatives may mean the end for the embattled cross-border trucking program with Mexico isn’t too far off.

The House voted Tuesday to pass the omnibus appropriations bill – a piece of legislation that provides funding to government agencies. In that bill, HR1105, two sections cut off the funding to the highly contentious program.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long opposed opening the border to long-haul operations for Mexico-domiciled motor carriers citing Mexico’s poor oversight of its trucking industry and the threat to the safety of highway users in the U.S.

The Association filed suit with the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in December 2007 seeking to stop the program. The court has not issued a ruling in the case.

OOIDA hasn’t been alone in its opposition to the program. Congress has already tried to cut the funding of the program once before.

Congress voted to cut the program’s funding in the 2008 appropriations legislation. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, introduced the language. It passed both chambers of Congress and was even signed into law by then-President Bush.

What followed were legal word games.

Dorgan’s amendment in the 2008 appropriations legislation stated: “None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

The DOT attorneys zeroed in on the word “establish” and said that since the program started in September of 2007, and not after the legislation was signed into law, the program could continue.

Dorgan defended the intent behind his legislation to no avail. However, the program continues to this day.

In the 2009 transportation appropriations legislation now in the works, Dorgan is back with an amendment that would cut off funding of the program, this time with careful wording that would prevent the word game end-around. His amendment, if signed into law with the full transportation appropriations bill, prohibits the DOT from spending any money, either directly or indirectly, to “establish, implement, continue, promote, or in any way permit a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexican-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones …”

The amendment goes on to cut the funding of ongoing programs, “… including continuing, in whole or in part, any such program that was initiated prior to the date of the enactment of this Act.”

The next step for the funding cut will be when the Senate takes up debate on the omnibus spending bill, possibly as early as next week.

The 12 bills that make up the 2009 appropriations funding legislation were due the first of October 2008. The money allocated in the currently debated appropriations legislation funds government agencies for the government’s 2009 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Agencies have been running thanks to “continuing resolutions” of the 2008 appropriations legislation because the 2009 funding has not been passed or signed by the president. To read more on the appropriations process, click here.

Three of the 12 appropriations bills have been completed for 2009 and instead of passing each of the nine remaining appropriations bills separately, they have been rolled into one massive bill. The Senate is expected to begin deliberations on the bill sometime next week.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor