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ON THE HORIZON


federal government puts up 50 percent and the states and localities put up 25 percent each. But states and local communities are not putting up any money unless they know the federal government is going to be there longer than 90 days (the typical length of a short-term funding extension by Congress). So we need to get a long-term bill.” But the bigger, more fundamental issue


is facing the current reality that the Highway Trust Fund needs and influx of new money. “We need to put a reasonable amount of


dollars in it,” says Donohue, some of whose members have openly hinted about their willingness to pay higher fuel taxes. “I’ll take a long-term bill with what we’re spending now instead of letting it all lapse and having a 30 or 35 percent cut [in the Highway Trust Fund]. “We haven’t had an increase in the federal


fuel tax in 18 or 19 years. Do you know we all have cars with a lot more miles per gallon? You’re paying less and there’s more wear and tear on the roads. “We need to deal with that issue,”


Donohue concluded. “We are all over it. It has got to happen. It is the simplest way to do something that makes us more competitive, far safer and creates a lot of jobs.” And Donohue is not just talking. He listed


increased spending for infrastructure first in the Chamber’s top five lobbying initiatives for 2012. The Chamber recently sent a letter signed


by hundreds of companies to all members of Congress urging them pass a long-term highway bill. “The long-delayed reauthorization of


federal highway and public transportation programs is a major piece of unfinished business that can provide a meaningful boost to the U.S. economy and its workers and already has broad-based support,” the Chamber’s letter says. “ Without increased revenue, the Highway


Trust Fund is projected to go broke within two years—but there are some who say it could happen as early as this summer. Industry leaders say it’s time to quit


putting our fingers in the financial dyke and put some serious money into the nation’s highways and bridges through the most efficient and time-honored system there is— the federal fuel tax. Even shippers, the people who actually


pay the freight bills, are willing to consider higher rates. A majority of board members of NASSTRAC, the shipper organization, recently voted in favor of advocating an increase in the fuel tax as long as that money was reserved for surface transport needs. Unfortunately, the fuel tax is largely


considered dead on arrival during this election year. “We understand the gas tax is DOA,” says


Mike Regan, president of Tranzact, a logistics information and freight payment company that allows customers to reduce freight costs. Regan also leads NASSTRAC’s advocacy panel. “The Obama administration has no


interest in raising a fuel tax,” Regan says. “But if you don’t rely on gas tax, there


is no way to support a highway program at levels that supported it in SAFETEA-LU,” Regan explained. “That doesn’t work. We are willing to consider other avenues.”


THE SPECTER OF TOLLS The most politically expedient way to


generate revenue is through legislation that would allow tolls on existing state highways. Though popular with some politicians, tolls are actually a very inefficient way to raise revenue. “Tolls are innocuous and you get away


with it,” Regan says. “But nobody wants to stand up and say, ‘This is crazy.’” Relying on an unadjusted fuel tax for Highway Trust Fund revenue is flawed on


two fronts. First, it has not been indexed for inflation and the rise in fuel costs. Secondly, with Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards steadily rising, Americans are driving less and using less fuel to go more miles. “We are losing less of a product that is


the basis of funding the Highway Trust Fund,” Regan says. “We need to have an intelligent discussion centering around that.” So who is preventing Congress from


raising the fuel tax? Enter Grover G . Norquist. Except for the nine Supreme Court


justices, Norquist is arguably the most powerful unelected man in Washington. As president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a taxpayer advocacy group he founded in 1985 at President Reagan’s request. ATR is a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals and businesses opposed to higher taxes at the federal, state and local levels. Ironically, Norquist is a former chief


speech writer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the very group he is now at odds with over fuel taxes. His group believes the answer to the


question of how much the government should be spending is categorically “less than it currently does.” Norquist has been called both the “dark


wizard of the right’s anti-tax cult” and “the single most effective conservative activist in the country.” He is a libertarian ideologue who believes Washington is controlling our lives through the taxes it raises to fund big government. And he’s said he wants to shrink it to a size where it could, as he once famously put it, “be drowned in a bathtub.” Norquist’s most famous document is his


“Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which asks candidates for federal and state office to commit themselves in writing to oppose all tax increases. In the 112th Congress, 238 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge. On the state level, 13 governors and 1249 state legislators have taken the pledge. At the state level, many governors and


Attorneys at Law


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Garlington, Lohn, Robinson, PLLP 199 West Pine St


Missoula, Montana 59802 (406) 523-2500 www.garlington.com


legislators have begun to talk about ways to increase transportation funding at state capitols around the country. Maryland is talking about as much as a 5- to 15-cent increase in its current 25-cent-per-gallon fuel tax to pay for road and bridge needs. Trucking industry leaders say infrastructure


spending needs to be coordinated by the federal government, not a state by state basis, or else highway planning and maintenance will suffer. RW


ROADWISE | ISSUE 1, 2012 | www.mttrucking.org


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