Truckers wary of suggestions to fix Highway Trust Fund

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/3/2013

The Senate Finance Committee has rolled out a long list of possibilities to shore up funding for highways and infrastructure. Among them are possible increases to the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, tire taxes and the excise tax attached to purchases of new trucks and trailers.

The committee has jurisdiction over tax reform, deficit reduction and finding ways to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Truck taxes are just some of the dozen or more discussion points released by committee leadership in recent days, but as OOIDA leadership points out, taxing truckers may be a path of least resistance for politicians when compared to other things on the list such as raising fuel taxes.

“Truckers must be on guard as Congress looks to shore up the trust fund and should keep in mind that the non-trucking population outnumbers folks in the trucking community,” OOIDA Chief Operating Officer Rod Nofziger said.

“Despite the negative implications for our nation’s economy and for thousands of small businesses, shortsighted lawmakers looking for a political path of least resistance may focus their sights on the trucking industry as a primary source of new revenue.”

Senate Finance leaders are not the first to suggest increases to the HVUT, tire taxes or excise taxes. A federally appointed commission suggested those along with moving to a mileage-based tax for all vehicle users over the next two decades to replace the fuel tax.

According to the latest document, lawmakers could consider increasing the $550 federal HVUT by 10 percent, bringing the annual fee to $605. The tire tax could increase by 1 cent for every 10 pounds of maximum capacity, and the truck and trailer tax could increase from the current 12 percent to 13 percent on new purchases. Used equipment would still be exempt under the equipment excise tax.

The document spells out many other possible tax reforms and revenue sources such as limiting infrastructure spending to what comes in to the Highway Trust Fund; devolving federal transportation programs and revenue to the states; maintaining the current system but increasing taxes and fees; indexing the fuel tax to inflation; increasing fuel taxes 10-15 cents; replacing the gas tax with a tax on vehicle miles traveled or VMT; and taxing vehicles more when fuel prices are high and less when prices are low.

The list goes further, suggesting lawmakers could look at taxing new bicycle purchases; replacing Highway Trust Fund taxes with a carbon tax on transportation fuels; increasing leasing fees for oil and gas production and directing the money to the highway fund; issuing bonds; establishing a national infrastructure bank and reducing taxes on foreign investment in U.S. infrastructure.

The Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, and ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-UT, say the document is a compilation of Democrat and Republican staffs and does not represent the committee’s view as a whole.

“For the sake of brevity, the list does not include options that retain current law,” the document’s introductory paragraph states. “The options listed are not necessarily endorsed by either the chairman or ranking member.”

“Members of the Committee have different views about how much revenue the tax system should raise and how tax burdens should be distributed. In particular, Committee members differ on the question of whether any revenues raised by tax reform should be used to lower tax rates, reduce deficits, or some combination of the two. In an effort to facilitate discussion, this document sets this question aside.”

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