State Watch
Ill-annoying no more

By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

“The past few years have brought a cascade of legislation and regulations that make truckers feel about as welcome as itching powder in the Sunday wash.”
       – LL June 2005

A few years ago, Land Line’s Mark Reddig wrote an article that depicted Illinois as a house of horrors for professional drivers.

The laundry list of complaints from Illinois truckers included toll increases, additional fees imposed on professional drivers, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s refusal to do away with split speed limits.

Since those dark days there has been a noticeable shift in how state officials address issues of concern in the trucking industry. The turning point is about as clear as a beacon shining off the Chicago shoreline. 

The Blago administration came crashing down in the spring of 2009. It wasn’t long afterward that lawmakers delivered to new Gov. Pat Quinn a bill to allow trucks to travel at the same speed as other vehicles on most interstate highways around the state.

OOIDA, the Mid-West Truckers Association and others in the trucking industry finally were rewarded for their years spent battling for the change.

State Sen. John Sullivan said at the time that he credited Quinn for being “much more open-minded on (uniform speeds) than the previous governor.”

Good riddance, Blago
In contrast to most of the past decade, efforts to benefit trucking operations and road safety continue to get a fair shake at the capitol. This year alone, bills have been offered to address issues that include truck speeds, truck weights, truck lengths and the commercial distribution fee.

Fleet owner and OOIDA Member Mike Gully of Quincy, IL, credits the end of Blagojevich’s tenure for much of the progress.

“Since Blagojevich has been out, the anti-truck sentiment has backed off. The trucking industry doesn’t seem to be under attack as much as we once were,” Gully said.

The days of government officials in Illinois constantly thwarting efforts by trucking interests to help level the playing field remain fresh in the minds of professional drivers. While those memories are unlikely to recede anytime soon, there is hope the recent trend at the capitol to provide nonpartisan support on issues of concern among truckers will become commonplace.

“Quinn seems to be very pro-truck. Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on a budget but at least they seem to agree on being pro truck,” Gully said.

The next step
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the 2009 speed-limit law was a major step toward improving safety on Illinois roadways. However, more needs to be done.

Sullivan, the sponsor of the 2009 law, agrees. The Quincy Democrat has offered a new bill that takes the next step. It calls for expanding the 65 mph speed limit for cars and trucks to include four-lane, divided highways outside of Chicago and the five surrounding “collar” counties.

“After I passed that initial legislation, I went home to my district and I realized there is a divided highway that runs through the heart of my district that wasn’t included in the legislation,” Sullivan told Land Line. “That’s when I decided we need to come back and work on this some more.”

Truck driver and OOIDA Member Buzz Sweeden of Manville, IL, welcomes the push for uniform speeds on more Illinois roadways. Since the 2009 law took effect, he said the benefit to safety has been noticeable.

“It has definitely improved travel. It eliminates so much road rage because vehicles don’t get trapped behind a truck going 55. Everything flows so much better with everyone able to travel at the same speed,” Sweeden said.

A long time coming
In addition to improving safety on roads, Sullivan is also pursuing fairer rules for truckers. He introduced bills to remove length limits for the distance between the kingpin and the center of the rear axle of semitrailers longer than 48 feet; place certification requirements for municipalities to use portable scales to cite truckers for weight restrictions; and eliminate state pre-emption on home rule counties setting size and weight rules.

Sullivan said he believes Illinois is the only state that still limits the kingpin-rear axle length. For him, the biggest problem with the rule is how it affects double deck livestock trailers.

“Those trucks are running all over Illinois, and every other state, but technically they are not legal in this state,” Sullivan said. “What we have done is simply remove that distance limitation.”

Another bill would eliminate the 55-foot maximum length limit for trucks on local roads. If approved, the new length limit for tractor-trailers would be 65 feet.

More money in the pocket?
Three more bills would allow truckers with Illinois base plates to keep more money in their pockets. Each bill pursues repealing collection of the commercial distribution fee for trucks in the state. The amount is a 14.35 percent surcharge of the annual registration fees.

For truck registrations of 80,000 pounds, truckers are required to chip in another $400 to cover the CDF. On top of the nearly $2,800 they already pay for base plates, truckers pay about $3,200 a year to tag their trucks in the state.

OOIDA’s Spencer said the fee amounts to a tax on a tax.

“It’s wholly inappropriate, and it should be eliminated,” he said.

Sweeden said this legislation provides the state an opportunity to show a commitment toward truckers trying to survive the economic climate by allowing them to keep a little extra money in their pockets.

“Nothing has ever been given back to the trucking community. Once truckers get hit with something, we live with it forever,” he said. “If the state were to actually do away with this, it would go a long way to lift morale in the industry and show us that the state is paying attention to our struggles.”

Still more to do
Even with the progress made in how state officials are addressing truck issues, Illinois truckers say there is much still to be done to improve the business climate in the state.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Life Member Roy Snow of Greenville, IL, said the excessive taxes and fees imposed on professional drivers based in Illinois make it nearly impossible to survive.

“I’m living on a very slim budget. I can’t cut it back any thinner,” Snow said. “The state is running off business and they don’t seem to care. When these businesses pack up and leave it’s going to cause the state to be even more in the red. Then where is the money going to come from?”

Gully said state officials need to make better decisions if the state is going to be able to survive the economic climate.

The state’s broke and they want to raise taxes. What they need to do is cut spending,” he said. “In the economy we have you cannot raise taxes. Doing that runs businesses out of the state.” LL