The American Trucking Associations last week offered a number of revenue alternatives it supports to address the nation's funding crunch for surface transportation infrastructure.
The nation's leading trucking advocacy organization favors raising the motor fuels tax and indexing it to inflation to plug the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run out of money sometime in August. The HTF has been depleted in recent years because obligations to reimburse states for the federal share of highway projects have exceeded revenues from user fees as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and driving patterns change. The 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4-cent-per-gallon diesel tax have stayed the same since 1993.
Raising the gasoline tax is opposed by the Obama administration and few lawmakers are interested in voting for a tax increase in the current political climate under which capping government growth has become a priority.
ATA officials, recognizing that a fuel tax increase may not be possible as Congress debates reauthorizing the MAP-21 surface transportation spending plan that expires Sept. 30, said they would endorse several other funding options. The list includes:
- Proceeds from repatriation of stranded overseas profits, as spelled out in House legislation proposed by Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., and Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
- Issuing Treasury bonds subsidized with revenue from indexing the fuel tax
- A new annual "highway access fee" for all motorists, intended to get at users of hybrid and electric vehicles that don't contribute to the system
- Use of royalties from new oil and gas leases
- A per-barrel tax on imported oil and domestic crude production
- A transfer from the General Fund to the HTF as a last resort to ensure the HTF's solvency
On May 15, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, reported to the full Senate a six-year transportation spending blueprint
estimated at $300 billion.
"We need open heart surgery on our highway system" because congestion is making it difficult for motor carriers to provide cost-efficient service and blocking economic growth, ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, who heads Bulldog Hiway Express in South Carolina, said two weeks ago at an ATA briefing with reporters held to draw attention to the nation's infrastructure challenges.
Last year, congestion added $9.2 billion in additional operating costs for motor carriers and 141 million hours of lost productivity, the equivalent of 51,293 truck drivers sitting idle for a year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, the ATA’s research arm.
ATA officials at the briefing reiterated their opposition to tolls as a way to raise revenue for highway upgrades. Byrd said it’s a form of double taxation on existing highways that have been paid for through user fees, and that 22 percent of proceeds from tolling go to administer the system, versus less than 1 percent through the fuel tax system, and that trucks will divert to smaller roads to avoid tolls.