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California governor threatens withholding of transportation funds in favor of housing

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A homeless man sits at his tent along the Interstate 110 freeway in downtown Los Angeles. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, outlined his plans in his proposed budget announced Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, to spend $1.75 billion on housing in a state that is woefully short on units and $500 million on homelessness. He's proposing to withhold state transportation dollars from local governments that won't build its share of housing, possibly setting up a budget fight with cities and counties. (Associated Press: RICHARD VOGEL)

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and JANIE HAR

SACRAMENTO, Calif  — California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a $1.75 billion plan for housing Thursday and threatened to withhold transportation money from local governments that don’t build their fair share, declaring he’s not playing “small ball” on California’s crisis.

The new Democratic governor also proposed spending $500 million for regions to build emergency shelters, navigation centers and other supportive housing to battle the state’s growing number of homeless.

“Homelessness is not a local concern in a few big urban centers, it’s not just a regional concern in urban metros, it is a statewide concern,” Newsom said. “Everybody has an obligation to step up and step in and do their job.”

Newsom announced his plans as part of a $144 billion state budget proposal, his first major spending plan as governor. Legislators still have a say over the budget, which must be finalized by June.

Newsom is a former mayor of San Francisco, and he acknowledged that local leaders might not like the strings he’s attached to the housing budget. For example, the governor wants to tie transportation money from a recent hike in gas and vehicle taxes to more affordable housing.

“To me, transportation is housing, housing is transportation,” he said, adding that if local governments are “not hitting your goals, I don’t know why you’re getting the money.”

California is in the throes of a housing crisis, with far fewer units than needed to house the state’s nearly 40 million people and rising rents. Newsom wants to build 3.5 million new units, saying past goals weren’t ambitious enough. When housing is taken into account, California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, and it also has more homeless people than any other state.

The Democratic mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles, both cities dealing with visible homeless populations and high rents, welcomed leadership from the state. Mayors of larger cities have pleaded for help from Sacramento as they absorb fallout from the housing shortage.

But Darby Kernan of the California State Association of Counties said tying gas and vehicle fee hikes to housing money isn’t the right idea. Opponents of the fee hikes tried unsuccessfully to repeal them last November, and Kernan said her organization doesn’t want to give the public a reason to question the tax hike.

She also said withholding money from counties isn’t fair.

“We can do all of the steps there are to plan for units, but we don’t build the units,” she said” “That is private industry, and so threatening to withhold our critical transportation dollars for something we don’t actually do, that is concerning.”

Newsom also said he wants to streamline the review process for new homeless shelters under the California Environmental Quality Act, noting that the Legislature will waive the act’s requirements for flashier projects such as sports stadiums. Reforming the massive environmental law is a tricky political topic that Newsom’s indicated he wants to engage on.

“I know it’s also controversial, but seriously, if you can create CEQA waivers to expedite stadium projects, and we do all the time, we sure as hell should be able to do that for 130,000 souls that are out on the damn streets and sidewalks in this state,” he said.

Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, said the organization generally opposes “jamming” reviews through the court system. But she said that addressing homelessness doesn’t have the “luxury of time” that building a new sports stadium has.

The issues of housing and homelessness are deeply related in an expensive state where two-thirds of renters pay more than $1,500 a month for shelter, says Paul Tepper, executive director of the Western Center on Law And Poverty, which works on behalf of poor Californians.

In San Francisco and other similarly pricey California cities, renters can easily pay more than $3,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Some low-wage workers sleep in their cars or mobile homes because they can’t afford anything near work.

“There is this enormous need for housing, and it is particularly acute for poor people,” Tepper said.

Har reported from San Francisco.

 

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The Nation

ATA hints it may sue Virginia over proposal to toll Interstate 81

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The proposed toll legislation for Interstate 81 would charge commercial trucks at 17 cents per mile, personal vehicles at about 11 cents per mile and offering an annual pass to commuters in passenger vehicles. (Courtesy: WIKIPEDIA)

RICHMOND, Va. — The American Trucking Association hinted Thursday it may sue the State of Virginia over legislation that proposes charging tolls on Interstate 81.

The ATA did so in a letter to Connecticut Gov. Ralph Northam opposing the legislation which Northam touts as the best way to fund improvements to the 325-mile interstate between Bristol and Winchester.

The bill proposes tolling commercial trucks at 17 cents per mile, personal vehicles at about 11 cents per mile and offering an annual pass to commuters in passenger vehicles.

The letter, signed by Jennifer Hall, the ATA’s general counsel and executive vice president, legal affairs, says that if adopted in their current form would not only be poor public policy, but would raise serious legal issues and may create an “impermissible burden” on interstate commerce.

The proposed plan has four options for tolling.

The ATA letter dealt with the option that would toll all vehicles with an annual pass available exclusively to automobiles.

“The car-only annual pass proposal is unlawful under the U.S. Constitution because it represents an impermissible burden on interstate commerce,” Hall wrote. “More specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court has explained that, under the Commerce Clause, a transportation user fee is permissible only “if it (1) is based on some fair approximation of use of the facilities, (2) is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce.”

Plan’s car-only annual pass option would fail this test for a variety of reasons, the ATA said, noting:

  • User fees would bear no relationship to use of the tolled roads;
  • Tolls on commercial vehicles would be excessive in relation to the benefits conferred;
  • The plan favors noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles, which power interstate commerce.

The ATA said by allowing automobiles the opportunity to pay a one-time fee for unlimited travel over the course of the year, but to deny that flat-rate opportunity to trucks, means that the proposal is not “based on some fair approximation of use.”

On the contrary, for a passenger car availing itself of the annual pass option, its user fees will bear no relationship whatsoever to its use of the tolled roads. Trucks, by contrast, will have no choice but to pay on a trip-by-trip basis, the federation claimed.

Hall said the proposed toll scheme discriminates against interstate commerce by favoring noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles—i.e., the very vehicles by which interstate commerce moves.

“The Supreme Court has expressly held that highway user fees ‘discriminate against out-of-state vehicles’ when they predictably ‘subject them to a much higher charge per mile travelled in the state,’ and ‘do not even purport to approximate fairly the cost or value of the use of [the] roads,” the letter said. “That is precisely what the proposed toll scheme does, by allowing automobiles — and only automobiles — the option of an annual flat fee that translates to a predictably lower charge per mile the more such vehicles use the road.”

If the ATA files suit against the toll plan in Virginia, it would be the second lawsuit regarding tolls in the past six months.

“We encourage you and the Assembly to think carefully about these issues before Virginia takes any further steps in the direction it appears to be heading; and to bear in mind that the auto-only annual pass option will be vulnerable to a legal challenge if it moves forward,” Hall concluded letter.

If a lawsuit filed against the director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, ATA charges that the Rhode Island tolls violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by imposing “discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., and the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation challenging the increased tolls on heavy vehicles on the Indiana Toll Road. They were implemented last October.  8

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Runaway ‘bobtail’ tractor crashes into Atlanta motel

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Police said this “bob-tail” tractor left the road, hit a parked car and ran into the side of a motel. (Atlanta Channel 2 Action News photo)

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Thursday that a driver is in custody after crashing a tractor-trailer into a motel in northwest Atlanta and running from the scene, officials said.

Atlanta Fire Rescue spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford told AJC.com that the truck went “partially” into the side of the Airway Motel in the 700 block of Fulton Industrial Boulevard on Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries.

The “bobtail” tractor-trailer left the road, hit a parked limousine and went into the one-story building about 9:15 a.m., Atlanta police Officer Jarius Daugherty said.

The driver ran but was captured nearby, police said. His identity and the charges against him have not been released.

A woman was inside the motel room where the truck hit, but she was able to escape by climbing out of a back window, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“I just started crying and screaming,” the woman, Lashonda Allen, told the news station. “I was just praying to God the semi-truck didn’t catch on fire.”

Crews are checking the structural integrity of the building and investigating what sparked the crash.

By noon, the truck had been removed, and a gaping hole remained in the brick building.

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The Nation

Oops! New York state did not previously enforce ELD rule, now making up for lost time

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The ELD mandate was a 2012 law passed under former President Barack Obama. The provision was championed as a way to protect the safety of truckers and others on the road. The Trucker file photo.

ALBANY, N.Y. — There’s always a straggler in the bunch. Unknown to many, New York state has not previously been enforcing the federal electronic logging device (ELD) mandate because it never adopted the ELD rule under its state laws and thus lacked the authority to enforce it.

According to the Trucking Association of New York (TANY), the New York State DOT has now issued an emergency rulemaking and begun enforcement of the ELD mandate.

TANY added in a news release that they have been told carriers not in compliance with the ELD mandate will be placed out-of-service as early as Thursday, January 17.

The ELD rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration went into effect in December 2017 and state governments were to have followed suit by incorporating the federal ELD rule into their state laws.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has pursued lawsuits with certain states that have enforced the mandate while lacking a state-level law.

The ELD mandate has been unpopular among some truckers, who say it harms their schedules, take-home pay, and safety. Other truckers have said they like electronic logging once they get used to it.

When OOIDA sued New York, their complaint was dismissed — not because the New York court agreed with the state’s actions to enforce the federal law, but because New York wasn’t enforcing the law in the first place, according to Business Insider.

The snafu came to light in a State of New York Supreme Court ruling and opinion issued on December 31 by Judge Richard M. Platkin.

“Drivers are not being stopped, cited, or placed out-of-service pursuant to the ELD rule,” Platkin wrote.

Marc Berger, the chief motor-carrier investigator for New York’s Department of Transportation, said in the December 31 ruling that there are “no notices of violation or uniform traffic tickets being issued citing ELD provisions.”

The other defendants in the case — New York’s state police and the Department of Motor Vehicles — also stated that the ELD law hasn’t been enforced.

The ELD mandate electronically enforces the Hours of Service (HOS) law, which has been in effect since the federal government began regulating trucking in the 1930s. The HOS law stipulates that truckers can drive no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period, a provision that some truckers say doesn’t reflect the nature of their work.

New York state said in the ruling that it does in fact enforce the HOS, but that the law is more challenging to enforce if ELDs are used.

The ELD mandate came into effect by means of a 2012 law passed under former President Barack Obama. The provision was championed as a way to protect the safety of truckers and others on the road. FMCSA estimated in 2014 that ELDs could prevent up to 1,714 crashes, 522 injuries, and 24 deaths each year.

But some truckers maintain ELDs are doing the opposite, while truck lobbying groups say it’s really not ELDs drivers have a problem with, it’s the unbendable nature of the HOS, which need more flexibility.

“The electronic logs are supposed to make it safer, but really it has created a hazardous race to beat the clock,” career truck driver Steve Manley, 51, told Business Insider. “Drivers are now more reckless than ever trying to make it to their destination before the clock runs out with the mandatory breaks and such.”

A TANY news release said despite New York State not enforcing the ELD mandate, it did enforce HOS and that FMCSA roadside inspections and on-site audits enforced the ELD mandate.

“Due to this, TANY continued to advise members to be in compliance with the ELD mandate regardless of the situation with New York enforcement,” the association said.

 

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