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Proof truckers already pay for highway use

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AP Photo/Rob Carr

How many times have we heard that trucks need to pay more for highways? It’s the never-ending cry of all who look to fund highway improvements. And its always claimed that large trucks cause far more damage than their taxes and usage fees pay for. This is a hard argument to refute as there were never any easily accessible figures to back up any response. The facts are now on-line – and will give any trucking supporter some ammo to shoot down these hard-to-refute statements: my daily Landline News update today brought some welcome news about a recently released study commissioned by the No Tolls on I-80 Coalition.

 For those unaware of the controversy, Gov Ed Rendell and his merry band of taxation-happy thieves has been trying to force tolling on Interstate 80 for several years. One of the claims, of course, is that I-80 is subject to heavy truck traffic from out-of-state. Its a short hop from that statement to say that these out-of-state truckers aren’t paying their fair share of highway upkeep. Ignoring the majority of northern Pennsylvania citizens and businesses (along with the ATA, OOIDA and every Pennsylvania-domiciled trucking company) that strenuously voiced their objections, Rendell began agreements with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to place the tolling system on I-80.  A crony legislator shoved through an authorization bill and Ritter signed it less than 30 days later without a public comment period. Based on the anticipated influx of cash from truck tolls  on I-80 paying the same overpriced rates they pay on I-76, Ritter budgeted $900 million for PennDOT. However, since the Interstate system is funded under the Federal Highway Administration, federal approval was needed. FWHA turned them down flat. Although there’s plenty of political support for adding tolls to roads taxpayers already pay for (double-taxation has never been a problem for the political classes), impact studies were required.

 Into the gap stepped the No Tolls on I-80 Coalition. They commissioned a study, released this week. The  study, completed by Tracy Miller, Associate Professor of Economics at Grove City College, shows that trucks clearly pay MORE than the budgeted amount for I-80 maintenance every year in fuel taxes and usage fees . . .and adding the amount paid by cars is half that amount again! PennDOT budgets about $80 million for I-80 maintenance: large trucks pay about $90 million each year. And, cars and light trucks add another $40 million. The study also shows a large amount of economic damage to small businesses along the corridor who are forced to pay higher shipping rates to cover the increased cost. Also examined was the additional cost and inconvenience for area residents. It states that tolling the highway will force many users to attempt to find other un-tolled routes, increasing traffic and impacting safety. The fact is, this part of Pennsylvania is mountainous and there are no parallel routes that can safely handle large trucks in many areas. They will be forced to pay the tolls.

 Why would Gov Rendell work so hard to institute a tolling system with such obviously detrimental effects on so many? A couple of quotes from State legislators make it clear who actually benefits from tolling I-80 . . .and it isn’t truckers or businesses along the highway:

"A majority of it goes to the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. It's funding for their mass transit and infrastructure needs," said state Sen. Robert Robbins, R-Mercer."They want to take our money and use it for their transit systems and roads," agreed state Rep. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango”. I-80 doesn’t come anywhere either of these cities!

 The loss of the proposed tolling income will cut the State highway budget in half, from $900 million to $450 million. That other $450 million was money that truckers were going to contribute to Philly and Pittsburgh to subsidize metro bus systems, light rail and the like – things they NEVER use. Since the FHWA turned down the first application made for permission to toll I-80, the state is back to square one. This time, with the evidence provided by this study, they may get a flat “NO”. We can only hope.

 Given the information in this study, we can just about conjecture that every other state’s tolling scheme would show nearly the same results. Lets hope studies are commissioned in these states to provide actual figures. It’s good information to know, given that Michigan’s not-too-bright legislators are already trying to move highway funds in NEXT year’s budget to the General Fund! This is no doubt happening in other states as well. Although this is welcome exposure of the scams and schemes behind the highway funding fiasco, it’s small consolation for the many thousands of small-business truckers who’ve been forced into bankruptcy and occasionally, suicide during this economic downturn. Knowing your business and life’s dreams have been taxed into oblivion to fund some elitist’s bike paths in a sea of “No Trucks” routes is enough to drive truckers to the brink of rage.

 If legislators and citizens want the public dollar to pay for things like mass transit, bike paths and new downtown ‘streetscapes’, its time to tax for them directly, not expect truckers to pay for it.  It’s a great lesson in fiscal responsibility to force users to underwrite the cost of feel-good beautification projects and high-sounding ideals like mass transit, not captive business non-users that can least afford it. In short, YOU want it, YOU PAY FOR IT! If that were to happen, my guess is that these things would suddenly move from the ‘need’ category to the ‘want’ side of the balance sheet. In the word of Margaret Thatcher: “Socialism is great until you run out of someone else's money”.

Comments

  • John 5 years ago

    No one is paying for highways -- completely -- the debt is being passed down to future generations. The solution? Raise the gas tax to adequately pay for highways, roads, and public transit.

  • Danielle/ TS08 5 years ago

    Sunkle-Pierucki I do not know who you are but YOU ROCK. Thank you for the trucking stories and setting people straight, it is long over due. We need more people like you. Thanks.
    If you need anything truckerstrike08@yahoo.com