Statehouse Primer
Truck drivers are not 'rolling piggy banks'

By Mike Matousek, OOIDA Director of state legislative affairs

State legislatures across the country are looking for ways to generate more revenue to support their roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure projects. Funding proposals include everything from authorizing toll roads or a new vehicle-miles-traveled tax, to increasing fuel taxes and vehicle registration and licensing fees.

There are also a couple of ballot initiatives intended to better protect transportation funds and gauge the public interest in a tax increase.

Regardless of how a state decides to bring in more highway dollars, eventually it will. Without a doubt owner-operators will be affected, and in many cases more so than other motorists.

Unfortunately, there is a common misperception among many elected officials that truckers do not pay their fair share to support the maintenance and construction of roads and bridges. Of course, those that are familiar with what truck drivers pay in transportation-related taxes and fees can easily disprove such misperception. However, as we all know, facts and politics are two words that are seldom used in the same sentence. Ongoing proposals in Vermont and Missouri are examples.

In Vermont, state Rep. Curt McCormack introduced HB621. The legislation would increase the state excise tax on gasoline and diesel by 2 cents per gallon.

The current state excise tax is set at 12 cents per gallon on gasoline and 28 cents per gallon on diesel. When you combine these taxes with other state and federal taxes, gasoline users are paying nearly

49 cents per gallon and diesel users are paying more than 56 cents per gallon in motor fuel taxes. Both amounts are already above the national average.

While we have long-argued that fuel taxes are the most equitable way to generate revenue for roads and bridges, we contacted state lawmakers and opposed HB621 because of how the revenue would be used.

As introduced, the entirety of the tax increase would be used to support public transit-related projects and the Vermont State Police. None of it would be used to address the state's highway needs, including the hundreds of bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. This is certainly a proposal that we will continue to follow.

In Missouri, state Sen. Doug Libla introduced SB623 to increase the state excise tax on gasoline by 1.5 cents per gallon and by 3.5 cents per gallon on diesel. Missouri is one of about 26 states that has an equitable tax on gasoline and diesel, which is currently set at 17 cents per gallon.

The state excise tax has not been increased in more than 20 years, so an increase is certainly reasonable and would hopefully prevent other funding alternatives such as tolling Interstate 70. However, there is no justification to tax diesel at a higher rate than gasoline. As a colleague correctly stated, Sen. Libla's proposal seems punitive against the trucking industry.

Finally, in South Carolina, state Sen. Kevin Johnson and state Rep. Robert Ridgeway III introduced legislation that would impose a toll on Interstate 95 on the bridge that crosses Lake Marion. For those familiar with that area, you'll probably agree the toll collection location is intended to target through traffic, including commercial trucks. There would likely be very little impact on South Carolina residents, and diverting from I-95 would be impractical. Fortunately, lawmakers are also debating funding proposals that focus on increasing the state's gasoline and diesel excise tax, which is a more appropriate mechanism to generate funding for roads and bridges.

These proposals might be politically expedient and make for good press for their constituents, but they're bad policy and should not be considered as part of any legitimate transportation funding debate. Owner-operators are not rolling piggy banks, though it often feels as if they are seen that way. LL