It may surprise some people, but the trucking industry has long supported increased taxes on fuels to support infrastructure improvements. Truckers now pay a significant federal tax on diesel fuel of 24.4 cents per gallon. However, the New York Times points out that officials of the American Trucking Association have testified 19 times before congress in the past decade supporting an increase in raising those taxes.
The ATA, the major umbrella association of trucking interests, points out that more than 72 percent of America’s freight by weight is transported by trucks. That heavy dependence places an equal dependence on good highways, roads, tunnels, and bridges. Those vital components of our nation’s transportation network are suffering from decades of neglect and deterioration.
A Long-Delayed Response
Estimates that attempt to put a cost on the backlog of repairs to these structures exceed $400 billion. Bridge fixes and updates are pegged at needing another $125 billion in expenditures. All of this is before addressing the estimated need for another $200 billion to provide new roads, upgrades, and modernization to expanding areas.
There is now before Congress a proposed solution to this and other infrastructure needs. The current version of the 2,700-page infrastructure bill has bipartisan support and there is an expectation that some form of funding will be approved in the coming weeks.
The Senate has passed its version of the bill with a great deal of legislation that will affect the trucking and transportation industries. In addition to funding for infrastructure, this includes:
Requiring a new focus on safety systems, such as Automatic Emergency Braking and Underride Guards
New taxes for the coming alternate-fuel vehicles that will avoid diesel fuel and related taxes
Enacting initiatives that encourage new drivers to consider trucking for a career, including a new apprenticeship program for drivers under the age of 21
Encouraging more women to consider trucking with a new Women of Trucking Advisory Board
The version of the bill that is being negotiated in the House includes these items as well as:
Increasing the minimum liability insurance coverage (above the current $750,000)
Truck parking shortage issues
Changes in the independent contractor rules and regulations
The process of getting a final bill on the desk for signing by the President will require the two sides of Congress to negotiate and approve a final version that reconciles these differences.
More than at any time in the past, the prospects for a good bit of this legislation being passed this year look positive. That was the opinion expressed by Dave Heller of the Truckload Carriers Association in recent comments to FleetOwner. He noted, “Our congressional representatives are saying now’s the time for infrastructure”
Funding the Price Tag
As always, the fundamental struggle for Congress is finding the most effective and least painful methods of funding the new legislation when and if it is enacted.
In the current structure, the first $550 billion of the proposed $1.2 trillion investment would come from new federal spending. Another $200 billion would be reallocated from unexpended funding for the coronavirus crisis.
The Highway Trust Fund is a favorite approach for many legislators. They believe further taxes on the transportation industry can help fund a self-sustaining HTF with more at-the-pump collection. The last increase to the taxes that flow to the HTF was in 1993.
A more innovative concept to help increase money flowing to the HTF is a pilot program for Vehicle Miles Traveled. The idea of VMT taxation of both commercial trucks and passenger vehicles is one way to recapture the taxes not collected from the purchase of diesel and gasoline fuel.
The proposed legislation also targets a variety of other infrastructure areas, including the electric grid, public transit, passenger and freight rail, and increased broadband access. However, the most immediate and visible impact of new expenditures will be on the roads and bridges that are so vital to keeping the trucks running.