Wisconsin truckers work to avert changes to idle-reduction grants

| 8/7/2007

Making your voice heard on issues important to you is a message that is often relayed to voters. Wisconsin truck drivers recently witnessed the effect of following through on that message.

During negotiations on the state’s budget bill, lawmakers in the Assembly removed a Senate-approved motion that called for increasing funds available in the Wisconsin Diesel Idle Reduction Grant Program. The effort sought to add another $1 million to the grant program, with the primary benefactors being large motor carriers based in the state.

Currently, the program allows for up to 70 percent of equipment costs to be reimbursed through a $1 million grant. Sponsored by Sen. David Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, the motion called for reducing awards to 50 percent. It also sought to increase the number of eligible awards to the largest fleets and allow grant money to possibly be used for truck stop electrification.

The effort to alter the existing program was met with fierce opposition by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and small trucking operations in the state.

Truck driver and OOIDA member Robert Torrez of Green Bay, WI, was one of many voters in the state to share his concerns about the proposal with his elected officials.

Torrez wrote a letter to Hansen to let his state senator know he was unhappy with the effort to direct more grant dollars to large trucking companies. In return, Torrez received a letter from Hansen. The letter explained why the senator offered the motion and that he would take into consideration Torrez’ views during any future consideration of the effort.

Truck driver and OOIDA member Dan Benes of Bryant, WI, said he had a similar experience when he contacted his state senator and state representative.

“It was nice they corresponded back with me. (Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivitz) called personally. He didn’t know about the situation with APUs and corporations getting money,” Benes told Land Line.

Torrez said his correspondence with Hansen renewed his enthusiasm to communicate with elected officials about issues important to him. He is hopeful more truck drivers take the time to do the same.

“Let the lawmakers know how you feel on issues. Sometimes they’re uneducated on a lot of our issues. They don’t know the trucking industry. So, they need to be educated. And once they are they will look into things on our behalf.” Torrez said.

Torrez also advised others not to underestimate the importance of being persistent.

“You have to keep after them. I think I’m going to start writing more. Now that I see what OOIDA is doing and I hear some of the responses on ‘Land Line Now,’ there are a lot of drivers who care,” he said.

In the case of Wisconsin’s grant program, OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said truckers who contacted their state lawmakers have served notice they are keeping an eye on issues that affect their livelihoods.

“Our members stepping up to the plate showed that a little populism can trump money,” Rajkovacz said. “Our hand has been strengthened quite a bit.”

The state’s budget bill – minus changes to the idle reduction grant program – is under review by a conference committee made up of select members in the Assembly and Senate. They must reach agreement on the final version of the budget before it can receive final approval in both chambers. The agreed-upon version would then move to Gov. James Doyle’s desk.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor