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DOT Secretary Foxx: not keen on fuel tax hike, tolling not solution for highway funds

Several senators tried to pin down Foxx on whether the Obama administration would be open to the idea of a fuel tax increase and Foxx said “our proposal is our proposal” and “the desire isn’t to raise rates.”

By DOROTHY COX
The Trucker Staff

5/7/2014

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx Wednesday told members of a U.S. Senate Committee that the tolling portion of DOT’s transportation bill introduced last week was “more limited than reported,” that the new Hours of Service are “driven by data” and that a fuel tax increase would not bring in enough money to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.

Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation took the opportunity of a hearing on the DOT transportation bill submitted by Foxx to air some of their pet peeves and question Foxx for two and a half hours Wednesday afternoon on various transportation-related issues.

And, many times Foxx reiterated that their concerns were why a sound transportation bill is needed.

As for the tolling part of DOT’s bill, Foxx said the tolling proposal was more limited than reported, that tolling would take place only if a state’s governor requested tolling and only if the DOT approved it.

He said any revenue derived from such tolling wouldn’t go to the federal government “to pay for our bill” and that “tolls are not the solution to the urgent problem of our Highway Trust Fund,” which he said will not be solvent as of the end of August.

However, he said, states and local transportation agencies will begin slowing down way before August that and that the heavy summer months of transportation construction will probably be slowed down by the government’s indecision unless a solution is reached soon.

Foxx said money from tolls would be used to maintain the infrastructure facilities where the tolls are charged.

He was asked if small business truckers, who often are hurt by tolls, were approached about the tolling portion of the bill, to which Foxx replied, “We engaged a variety of stakeholders.”

Minority Member Sen. Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire told Foxx she was hearing “huge feedback about the negative impact of the new Hours of Service on productivity,” adding that the rule “has substantial problems” according to what she had heard from individual truckers and the businesses they serve. “It’s staggering,” she said.

She said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “speculated” that the rules would allow truckers to have healthier lives and to live longer but said she hadn’t seen the benefits. “How are you gauging that impact” of drivers being healthier from the new HOS, she wanted to know.

Foxx said the new HOS were “data driven” and that sometimes regulations meant limitations on freedoms. But he said “deep study” went into the rules’ formation and “we’re convinced they’re the appropriate standard.”

Several senators tried to pin down Foxx on whether the Obama administration would be open to the idea of a fuel tax increase and Foxx said “our proposal is our proposal” and “the desire isn’t to raise rates.”

He said the “curve for a fuel tax increase is downward facing” because more fuel-efficient vehicles and less people driving meant less in the Highway Trust Fund hopper.

However, Foxx said at several times that the administration’s “eyes and ears will be open and listening to what Congress says” but again, “We believe the [DOT] proposal is the way to go.”

Ranking member John Thune of South Dakota said that made it difficult to come up with funding solutions if the administration wouldn’t consider a fuel tax increase.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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