OPINION: Why Trucking Leaders Are WRONG To Support Federal Fuel Tax Increases
“Until you prove to us and the American people that you actually give a damn about our time, safety and livelihoods… then you aren’t getting another penny from us.”
Little Rock, Arkansas – As expected, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released the findings of its annual infrastructure study, Cost of Congestion To The Trucking Industry, in October. It reports that congestion cost the trucking industry a total of $74.5 billion and 1.2 billion hours of productivity.
The study put this in perspective by pointing out this is equivalent to 425,533 trucks sitting idle for an entire year and cost each truck on the highway an average of $6,478 throughout the year in 2016.
To no trucker’s surprise, the top states for congestion costs were Texas with $6.3 billion, Florida with $5.6 billion, California with $5 billion, New York with $4.3 billion and New Jersey with $3.3 billion. Interestingly, 86.7% of congestion costs occur on just 17.2% of highway miles.
Yeah, you read that right. It’s easy to see where the congestion is, so why not fix it? We’ll get back to this question in a bit.
What’s The Real Cost?
Any diligent analysis of the current dilapidated state of U.S. infrastructure must assess the economic impact of the problem. For truckers, when productivity slows due to unnecessary traffic congestion, you just can’t work longer hours to make up for that.
Nope. You just simply lose the time and the money for your time. Just like that. Poof! It’s gone. However, it goes far deeper than this.
To really understand the problem it must be put in human terms. The most meaningful commodity any of us have is our time. This is why the most common complaint among truckers about shippers/receivers and trucking companies is not being compensated for all on-duty time.
The ATRI study points to 1.2 billion hours of productivity lost. Our question is what would it mean to drivers to have those hours back?
What would it mean to you if you could reclaim the countless hours you have spent in congestion over the course of your career?
If you could reclaim this time would you invest more of it into your family? Perhaps, enjoy more time with your spouse or spend more meaningful weekends fishing with your children? Maybe you would be able to make it to more dance recitals or little league games?
Maybe you would invest the money earned from these additional hours of productivity into your children’s college fund or a retirement account so that you could retire before you’re 75. Maybe you would choose to pay off your mortgage ahead of schedule or take a much deserved vacation.
The unfortunate part is you don’t have the opportunity to make this choice for yourself because the choice has been effectively made for you. The failure of U.S. Congressional leaders along with past presidents to take long-term meaningful action on this issue clearly communicates one unavoidable reality… THEY DON’T CARE, ENOUGH.
Give Us More Of Your Money And We Promise To Do Better
Thursday, Dec. 6, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report titled “Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System.” The purpose of the report was to take a detailed look at the current state of U.S. infrastructure and what the future will look like if it does not become a funding priority.
The essential conclusion of the report was that without a significant increase in funding the future is dire. The report says current levels of state and federal spending for interstate projects will need to increase by 50%. Add to that an additional $30 billion per year just to keep up with maintenance and repairs.
The report recommends interstate project spending levels be increased from its current level of $25 billion/year to $70 billion/year for the next 20 years. Of course the experts who published the report are also kind enough to recommend the solution to the funding quandary.
Raise fuel taxes they say. That’s right. They believe Americans should pay more at the pump.
Okay, well the report must then indicate that all Highway Trust Fund (HTF) monies are already being allocated to fixing roads, bridges and interstates. The report must also say that if only more fuel tax revenues, which make up approximately 90% of the HTF, were coming into the HTF then the U.S. could once again lead the world in infrastructure development, right? Right?
Wrong again. Now get this… in the same report these so-called government experts propose increasing fuel taxes to better fund the HTF, they also acknowledge that only about 30% of the monies in the HTF are actually spent on highway projects. You can’t make this stuff up!
Let’s see, so they are proposing Americans cough up more money every time they fill up. Then, give it to the people (Congress) who have proven to be irresponsible with it for decades. Yep. That’s the answer they say.
Don’t worry though. The report also calls for the enactment of a provision that would require Congress to appropriately spend the new monies. Doesn’t that make you feel better as a taxpayer? Yeah, us either.
A Better Way To Open Negotiations On Federal Fuel Tax Increases
We’ve all heard the axiom most often attributed to Albert Einstein, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome or result.” If that’s true, then why are trucking industry stakeholders doing just that when it comes to their support for increasing federal fuel taxes?
For decades Congress has proven to use the HTF as a slush fund for all types of other pet projects. Even if Congress adopts rules requiring them to spend HTF monies on highway projects, they can simply re-write and adopt new rules when they so choose.
So, why are so many successful, smart, and shrewd trucking business executives beginning the negotiation with Congress on this issue by staking out the position of “Ok, we’ll agree to give you more money, but you better not screw us over again like you have been doing for the past 25 years.”
It seems to us like the better opening negotiating position should be, “until you prove to us and the American people that you actually give a damn about our time, safety and livelihoods, not to mention the overall national economy; and begin to re-prioritize spending allocations with the monies already in the HTF to address infrastructure needs, then you aren’t getting another penny from us.”
Our view is that Congress should be trying to win support for more funding by demonstrating they are responsible in their duties, not the other way around. After all, as perhaps our greatest U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, famously said in his historic Gettysburg Address, government is “of the people, by the people, and FOR THE PEOPLE.”
What Do You Think?
Tell us what you think by sounding off in the comments section below, in our members only “Hey Truckers” forum or on our Facebook page. We want to hear from you!