Commission recommends tolls and taxes, but no reform

| 2/26/2009

As if truckers and highway users aren’t paying enough in taxes, fees and tolls to run on America’s highways, a federal commission is recommending that Congress adopt a sweeping array of new and higher user fees.

Critics, including OOIDA, say the report does not address the way transportation money is spent nor does it call for reform.

“This commission’s report is a waste of public and private resources, let alone the time and energy of transportation policymakers,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Before dumping more water into the bucket, we need to fix the gaping holes in the bottom.”

The members of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission released their recommendations to Congress on Thursday, Feb. 26, urging lawmakers to increase fuel taxes by 15 cents per gallon in the near term, eventually replacing the fuel tax with a new tax on vehicle miles traveled.

Other revenue-generating ideas presented by the commission include a new sales tax on fuel; increases to the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax and other user fee; and a carbon cap-and-trade system that could hit the drivers of diesel vehicles hard.

OOIDA officials are quick to point out that the commission failed to address out-of-control spending of transportation funds for non-transportation uses.

“They neglected to address the most fundamental problem associated with financing our nation’s infrastructure – reining in and redirecting ineffective and wasteful spending on programs and initiatives that aren’t aligned with actual construction and maintenance for our highway system,” Spencer said.

Few would question that more money needs to be spent on aging roads and deficient bridges during the next few years. Transportation leaders in Congress are on a path to draft the next large-scale highway funding reauthorization bill this year.

“Over half of the miles that Americans travel on the federal-aid highway system are on roads that are in less than good condition, more than one-quarter of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and roughly one-quarter of the nation’s bus and rail assets are in marginal or poor condition,” commissioners stated in the report.

OOIDA and other highway user groups, including the American Highway Users Alliance, agree with statements about a neglected system, but say they cannot support a case for new or higher taxes without sufficient reform and oversight built in.

As commissioners state the need for a host of new taxes and fees, they also want Congress to give states more power to implement more tolling and congestion pricing and to sell or lease infrastructure to the private sector.

OOIDA and other highway user groups remain strongly opposed to the tolling of existing highway capacity.

Trucks make up only 7 percent of traffic on the nation’s highways, but highway-use taxes that truckers pay amount to more than 36 percent of the total money contributed to the federal Highway Trust Fund according to OOIDA.

“Truckers are already paying more than their fair share,” Spencer said.

OOIDA acknowledges that a vehicle-miles tax may someday replace the fuel tax, but for now, the fuel tax remains viable as the fairest and easiest way to fund transportation.

To read what all the fuss is about concerning the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission report, click here.

– By David Tanner, staff writer