Washington Insider
What road will more status quo take us down?

By Ryan Bowley, OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs

Things have gotten back to normal. Ads for car insurance have regained their domination over our TVs. Your Facebook feed is more about baby pictures than overly heated political debates.

Billions were spent during the 2012 election. Yet the voters spoke and basically said we are going to keep the status quo: a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House of Representatives.

Despite this result, the elected officials who will be gathering in Washington in January will not be able to maintain their status quo of doing nothing about our big national problems.

We have reached the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” a dangerous mix of scheduled tax increases and budget cuts that are set to take place in January. If Washington does nothing, the impact to the economy could be huge, risking putting us back into a recession.

Washington needs to do something about the fiscal cliff during the “lame duck” session at the end of 2012. As of press time, it wasn’t clear what would be done, but a stopgap to give Congress and the White House a year to figure things out is the likely solution.

A long-term fix for the fiscal cliff is all about fundamental tax reform, which will be the focus in 2013. Corporate and individual rates will be addressed, as will bringing some logic to the hundreds of exemptions that have been added over the decades. Both parties want to do it, and addressing our overly complex tax code is seen as a way to reduce the deficit while helping spur growth to our economy.

The devil will be in the details of any tax reform plan and getting something that complex and politically challenging passed is no small lift, with Democrats looking to increase some rates with Republicans generally in opposition.  

However, there are no more cans to kick down the road. Some agreement between the two sides must be made during 2013.

If taxes are going to be the focus during 2013, where does that leave transportation? Normally the two years after the passage of a highway bill are quiet times in the committees OOIDA focuses on, but instead of the traditional six years, MAP-21 was only a two-year highway bill. This means that the work for the next highway bill is beginning now.

While MAP-21 focused on reforming the highway program, the next bill is going to need to be about funding, because the Highway Trust Fund is facing its own fiscal cliff. Just to maintain current highway investment, the Trust Fund will need $15 billion over what current taxes bring in starting in 2015, and it only gets worse as time passes.

With this need, ideas to fix things will be aplenty, and some of them will not be good for the trucking industry. OOIDA is going to be making sure that everyone knows ideas like more tolling and privatized roads are not solutions by any measure. A long overdue increase in gas and diesel taxes, with all the money dedicated to highways, is a solution truckers can live with and is one that will benefit all highway users.

While the voters gave the green light to the status quo, time has run out for Washington to keep sitting at a red light and refusing to hit the gas. On issues like tax policy and how to fund our highways, Congress and the White House are going to have to decide which road to take.

Given how important these issues are, truckers need to be informed and need to take action. 2012 was an important election, and 2013 will be an important year. And your representatives need to be constantly reminded that truckers are important. LL