SPECIAL REPORT: Fuel tax proposal on tap for House hearing

| 1/16/2008

Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2007 – The members of a commission that has recommended increasing the federal fuel tax and giving the green light to more toll roads and congestion pricing are set to testify before a Senate committee.

The hearing is set for Thursday, Jan. 17, before the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. All 12 members of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, including Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, are included on the witness list for the hearing.

The federal commission is recommending a complete overhaul of the national transportation funding system, starting with a federal fuel tax increase ranging from 25 cents to 40 cents per gallon, and including tolling, congestion pricing and eventually a mileage-based highway tax to replace the fuel tax.

After reviewing a report issued Jan. 15 by nine members of the 12-member commission that called for those measures, OOIDA officials said reform of the Highway Trust Fund should also include increased accountability for spending.

“They need to show us the money,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “Where it’s going, how it is being used, what are our true national needs, how the system is going to be cleaned top to bottom, and then we’ll talk about paying more.”

“Truckers pay enormous sums into the Highway Trust Fund, contributing as much as 36 percent of it, and they deserve better than just ‘a new beginning’ – which really just means paying even more money.”

Spencer and others call the report a mixed bag for truckers.

On one hand, the commission recommendations preserve the federal role in transportation funding via the Highway Trust Fund, but on the other hand, truckers would pay more for fuel, tolls and other taxes.

“We have to make sure our issues float to the top on this,” OOIDA Senior Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce told Land Line.

A minority of the commission, including Secretary Peters, who chaired the commission, issued a dissenting report condemning a fuel-tax increase but promoting tolls and privatization.

Peters and the Bush administration have favored smaller government involvement, increased private-sector investment and tolling, along with increased state control of transportation.

Short-term goals in the commission’s report include a fuel-tax increase of between 5 cents and 8 cents per year during a five-year period. Commissioners also recommended that a highway-user tax, based on vehicle miles driven, be implemented by 2025 to replace the fuel tax.

If the fuel tax were raised by as much as 40-cents a gallon, it would cost OOIDA members an average of more than $7,000 a year. That’s based on an OOIDA survey that found the average member logs just less than 110,000 miles per year.

Take an average of 6 miles to the gallon. That translates into more than 18,000 gallons of fuel. Multiply that times an extra 40 cents per gallon and it means the new fuel tax would cost a trucker $7,333.

Joyce said the commissioners may have a tough task ahead of them in getting federal lawmakers onboard with a fuel-tax increase in a time of soaring fuel prices.

“Whether this report becomes a doorstop, put on a shelf or is used depends on a lot of people in Washington,” Joyce said. “That voice includes owner-operators and small-business truckers.”

Click here to view the commission’s report.

– By David Tanner, staff writer

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.