Federal fundraising – the truth about UCR

By Sandi Soendker, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

The federal Unified Carrier Registration Agreement, or UCR, sounds really important. What exactly does it do?

The UCR has no services, no job duties to fulfill. It requires individuals and companies that operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate or international commerce to register their business with the base state of choice and pay an annual fee based on the size of the fleet.

So it just collects money from trucking companies. That’s it.

Why, then, is this scheme even necessary? Sure, if it were drummed out, the states that get money would cry a river. But Congress and the White House are talking about “doing more with less.” I’m pretty sure trucking companies, brokers, freight forwarders etc. would agree that this UCR arrangement needs to be on the “knock out” list.

The UCR Agreement is a base-state system administered by federal and state governments and by the motor carrier industry for the collection of fees levied on motor carriers and related entities. It’s a federal law.

Under the UCR Act, the Single State Registration System was repealed as of Jan. 1, 2007, and states stopped collecting SSRS fees. The SSRS replaced the old bingo stamp burden on each truck as a means of proving operating authority and liability insurance to each state. The UCR Agreement was simply intended by Congress to replace revenues the states got from SSRS and other programs.

And that is what it’s about – a way to collect money from the trucking industry without doing anything. It’s a fundraiser for the state police commercial safety and roadside efforts. It does nothing else.

Who pays into the UCR piggy bank?

At least it does not show favoritism on who has to register. Included in

the UCR Agreement are many businesses that were not subject to the old SSRS – private motor carriers of property, exempt carriers, regulated carriers that did not travel into SSRS states, brokers, freight forwarders and leasing companies.

On the other hand, it clearly has been inequitable from the start regarding determination of fees. The agreement has set brackets for the fee. If you own one or two trucks, you pay $76 per truck. If you own between 101 to 1,000 trucks, you pay $7,511. The more you register the cheaper it is, no doubt discriminating against small businesses.

When they set up the extent-of-operations rule, however, it was decided that one size fits all. On the UCR fee chart it matters not how many miles the carrier’s trucks run, only the fact that the carrier is engaged to some extent in interstate commerce. A carrier may, for example, have operations in just a few states, none of which participate in the UCR Agreement. Its UCR fees will be the same as a carrier that operates the same number of commercial motor vehicles but whose operations extend to all participating states. Neither does it matter under the UCR Agreement which state is acting as a carrier’s base state; the level of UCR fees for a fleet of a given size will stay the same.

What states are out? A one-time request opportunity in 2008 gave states a chance to opt in. Those who didn’t jump in were Arizona, Hawaii, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.

Each participating state will collect UCR fees from each UCR registrant that has designated the state as its base state. A state will retain those collections until it has satisfied its UCR Agreement revenue entitlement, after which it will transfer additional collections it makes to the UCR depository. A state that fails to collect enough to satisfy its entitlement is paid the difference by the UCR depository from the funds transmitted to it by the states that have collected an excess.

That sounds like a great idea ... unless a state owes millions of dollars in overpayments to the depository and happens to be a stubborn, reluctant payor. And that has happened (cough, Illinois).

Each participating state has authority to enforce registration compliance through roadside enforcement checks and to hand out citations and fines. An unregistered vehicle stopped in Rhode Island, for example, would be subjected to a $300 fine for each occurrence. Keep in mind that is just for Rhode Island. A company traveling to Maine could be stopped in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine and fined in each jurisdiction.

That registration info is kept in a national database that can be accessed by law enforcement personnel, even in non-participating states. Those states can’t collect a UCR fee, but they do fine you for not being current. And they keep that money, using it for motor carrier safety programs and enforcement.

Currently, UCR is allotted $5 million a year to administer this program that does absolutely nothing. Genius. Why not have meetings in exotic places? LL