ATA Not Optimistic About Highway Bill
President and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA) and former Republican governor of Kansas, Bill Graves, recently expressed his concern about the fate of the senate highway bill currently under consideration at the May 8 National Industrial Transportation League forum in Arlington, Virginia.
Graves blamed sharp political divisions and an inadequate response by Congress to critical infrastructure issues for the conflict over funding and stalling of the bill. He further warned that failure to compromise to resolve national transportation challenges could “impede the economic progress of this country and make it much more difficult for U.S. businesses to be competitive” who depend on the trucking industry to meet their shipping needs.
Although the idea of raising taxes is unpopular with many Americans, Graves referred to the measure as “the conservative approach to funding transportation” and the lesser of two evils, noting the projected need for the U.S. to spend $140 billion within the next 10 years in order to maintain highway infrastructure, a major contributor to economic growth, and pointing out how increasing the fuel tax would actually be more affordable and beneficial to taxpayers and the nation.
The administrative costs to collect taxes amounts to only a fraction of a percent versus the much higher estimated costs associated with administering private tolls roads, ranging from 15% to 25%, which also would represent a substantial loss of revenue. If trucking companies are forced to absorb even greater costs, this will negatively impact businesses and consumers, and could result in cutbacks in truck driving jobs, which is also detrimental to the economy.
But some Republicans believe that the federal government should play no role in funding a nationwide highway network even though it bolsters the economy and enables the creation of thousands of truck driving jobs, which Graves expressed disagreement with, stating that “all that does is send the problem downstream” to a patchwork of 50 states. He added, “We have to have a successful, multimodal transportation system to serve the people of this country.”
Another problem Graves addressed has to do with the scope of the legislation, stating that even if the current bill were to be adopted in exchange for the Obama administration approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, it offers only a limited two-year solution which provides no more funding than in previous years and expires in October 2014. He said, “We need a long-term bill, a five- or six-year bill.”
Although “the solution is obvious,” according to Graves, and the facts clearly demonstrate a need to reinvest in national infrastructure, he is not optimistic that those on Capitol Hill will be capable of negotiating a satisfactory resolution that would “increase the federal motor fuels tax,” unchanged since 1993, necessary to support our transportation system with all its rising costs that serves trucking companies, businesses, and consumers.