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GOP states discover a tax hike they have to like: for roads

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In an April 12, 2019, photo, Interstate Highway 75 construction continues in Troy, Michigan. After passing waves of tax cuts in recent years, some Republican-dominated states have decided it's time to make a big exception, calling for tax increases to fix roads crumbling from years of low funding and deferred maintenance. (Associated Press: CARLOS OSORIO)

LANSING, Mich. — After passing waves of tax cuts in recent years, some lawmakers in several Republican-dominated states have decided it’s time to make a big exception and are pushing for tax increases to fix roads that are crumbling from years of neglect.

In the past month alone, the Republican governors of Ohio, Alabama and Arkansas have signed fuel tax hikes. Meanwhile, proposed increases are being considered by three legislatures that are fully or partly GOP-controlled, including a whopping 45-cents-a-gallon hike in Michigan.

The moves show a growing willingness in conservative places to take on the fearsome politics of higher taxes, at least for infrastructure. Republicans who otherwise support lower taxes are acknowledging that cutting government spending elsewhere in the budget won’t cover the cost of repairing the many miles of potholed roads and creaky bridges.

“It’s going to take $2.5 billion a year,” said Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah of Michigan’s road-building needs. “Anyone who thinks you can cut even half of that out of other elements of the state budget without having significant ramifications to real people, you’re smoking something that’s not legal.”

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won election last year after running on the slogan “Fix the Damn Roads.” Her plan would gradually add 45 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas by October 2020, which would be more than double the current 26-cents-per-gallon gas tax and make it the highest in the country. GOP legislative leaders have dismissed the proposed hike as way too much, but they are leaving open the prospect of passing a more modest increase in the face of intense pressure from the business community.

In some states, Republican-leaning interests have become the biggest backers of higher taxes for this purpose, which is seen as necessary for economic development.

While consumers are acutely conscious of prices at the pump, legislators are struggling to get around the difficult realities of the fuel surcharge that funds transportation projects. They are also facing the echoes of the tax cut promises they made in winning over many heartland states in the last decade — that getting tougher on spending wouldn’t mean worse services.

In most states, the excise tax rate per gallon is fixed and doesn’t rise with inflation. And the federal gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993. Meanwhile, consumers are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles or are driving less, depressing revenue. The real purchasing power of the federal gas tax has fallen by 40% over the past quarter-century, and repair costs rise significantly when roads decline to a rating of poor or worse.

This winter, Michigan’s Department of Transportation had to close 10 miles of Interstate 75 in suburban Detroit — one of the state’s most heavily trafficked stretches — because of vehicle damage from cracks and potholes.

In Ohio, new Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who attacked his opponent in the 2018 campaign as a tax-friendly Democrat, this month signed off on a 10.5-cent gas tax increase and a 19-cent diesel tax hike. Republican Govs. Kay Ivey of Alabama and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas last month signed increases that were their states’ first in decades, of 10 cents and 3 cents respectively. And the GOP-led General Assembly in Virginia this month voted to add 7 cents a gallon in some parts of the state, which was a win for Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

Fuel tax increases also are under consideration in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where power is divided between the parties.

The state plans pay little heed to President Donald Trump’s latest proposal for $200 billion in federal infrastructure spending. An earlier plan died in Congress and was heavily dependent on state and local funding, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump talked this month about working together on an infrastructure package.

In Michigan, the roads have become a state joke. Contests are held to find the worst pothole. An ice cream made by a Shelby Township company is called the “Michigan Pot Hole.” A 12-year-old Muskegon Heights boy recently attracted attention on local TV and social media for filling the ankle-deep pits on his street with dirt.

Three years ago, the Republican-led Legislature approved a $1.2 billion road plan that raised fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, and was heavily dependent on shifting income tax revenue from an account that covers health care, higher education and other funding areas. But the effect was limited and Whitmer warns that without additional investment, the percentage of state-owned highways that are rated poor will double in five years, to 44%. Local streets are worse.

In recent years, Michigan’s Republican leadership has focused on cutting business taxes and expanding income tax credits.

“This is 40 years of disinvestment in the state of Michigan, and it’s coming due now,” Whitmer said of the roads.

At a recent GOP meeting in Grand Rapids, Republican state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis said many of her colleagues first want to look into redirecting other state spending to roads and to see the 2015 laws fully implemented. A number of Republicans hope to dedicate Michigan’s sales tax on motor fuel to the transportation budget, but they have not detailed how that would be done without slicing funding for schools and municipalities.

“I think there are people who are willing to talk about some sort of small tax, perhaps if we couldn’t find enough money elsewhere,” Afendoulis said.

Whitmer’s plan would cost the average motorist $276 a year. She has proposed offsetting that burden with targeted income tax relief for retirees and low-income workers.

Conservative Arkansas saw no alternative to higher taxes. The measure for adding another 3 cents per gallon for gas and 6 cents for diesel passed the Legislature by an overwhelming margin.

“That shows the level of need and the level of support,” said Arkansas’ governor, Hutchinson. The law also will tap into expected revenue from casinos and imposes an additional registration fee on electric and hybrid vehicles.

Ohio’s DeWine said the states can’t wait for the federal government to solve their road problems, noting that Ohio ships more federal gas tax revenue to Washington than it receives in return.

“Frankly, we should be raising the money ourselves and spending it ourselves,” he said. “It’s much more efficient, gives Ohio more bang for the buck than sending it off to Washington and having them send it back to us.”

 

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The Nation

Arizona lawmakers OK ban on cellphone use while driving

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Under the new law, police could issue warnings until 2021, when they could begin writing tickets carrying fines of $75 to $149 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second. (The Trucker file photo)

PHOENIX  — The small list of states that allow either texting while driving or hand-held cellphone use is shrinking after the Arizona House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a cellphone use ban and sent it to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for his expected signature.

Arizona, Missouri and Montana had been the only three states that hadn’t banned texting while driving. Arizona will join 16 others that bans all use of a hand-held cellphones while driving.

The 44-16 vote on the toughest of three proposals debated by House lawmakers Thursday comes after years of inaction by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The Senate earlier approved it on a 20-9 vote. Ducey has pledged to sign the measure, which takes effect in January 2021.

More than two dozen cities enacted local bans that will remain in effect until then.

The House rejected a weaker ban on cellphone use, but approved legislation that strengthens the state’s overarching distracted driving law on a 31-29 party line vote.

Bills to restrict phone use while driving have been introduced for a decade but haven’t advanced amid concerns by Republicans about creating a “nanny state” that overregulates behavior.

Supporters of the ban pointed to the death of a police officer in January after a distracted driver lost control and struck him on a Phoenix-area freeway. Relatives of Salt River tribal police officer Clayton Townsend and others who have died in distracted driving crashes gave emotional testimony, carrying photos of their loved ones around the Capitol.

The officer’s death gave the proposal inertia that hadn’t appeared despite tearful testimony in recent years by relatives of people killed in accidents caused by cellphone use, said Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, who carried the measure with Rep. Noel Campbell.

The hand-held phone use ban bars drivers holding it unless the vehicle is stopped. Calls to 911 would be allowed. Police could issue warnings until 2021, when they could begin writing tickets carrying fines of $75 to $149 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second.

The second enacted proposal doesn’t explicitly ban texting, but rather outlaws any behavior that isn’t related to driving if it causes an “immediate hazard” or prevents the driver from controlling their vehicles.

Democrats opposed the distracted driving measure, saying it could lead to racial profiling by allowing officers to stop a driver on a pretext. But Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, a retired police officer, said a rogue officer can always find a reason to stop a driver.

Kavanagh said he supported both measures, because some distractions aren’t caused by cellphones and officers need the enforcement option.

“Cellphones so consume your consciousness that you don’t even realize how long it has your attentions,” he said. “So a cellphone bill will take care of that problem. But we need this bill too.”

Several lawmakers talked of deaths or serious injuries of their family members or friends. An emotional Republican Rep. Ben Toma recalled how his younger sister died years before cellphones became popular when a driver distracted by a newspaper hit her with his car.

“There is no doubt that being on your phone while driving can be a significant distraction,” Toma said. “But this is a much broader issue. If this bill does nothing more than save one life we should support it.”

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FMCSA reminds truckers drug, alcohol clearinghouse coming soon

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The clearinghouse will be a professional truck driver database that will serve as a centralized record of all failed drug or alcohol tests, whether from pre-employment screenings, post-crash tests or random. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

Remember two years ago, when it seemed like the entire trucking industry was counting down the days to the ELD deadline?

Well, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) wants drivers to be aware of another countdown happening right now, although with much less hoopla than the Great ELD Panic of ’17.

At the recent Mid-America Trucking Show, Joe DeLorenzo, FMCSA director of enforcement and compliance, gave a presentation to raise awareness about the soon-to-be launched federal CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Mandated as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, in 2012, the same piece of legislation that bore the ELD mandate, the drug and alcohol clearinghouse is scheduled to launch January 6, 2020.

The clearinghouse will be a professional truck driver database that will serve as a centralized record of all failed drug or alcohol tests, whether from pre-employment screenings, post-crash tests or random. All refusals to take a drug or alcohol test will also be recorded.

“I came here with a bit of a mission on the drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule,” DeLorenzo said to the MATS audience. It has come to the agency’s attention the clearinghouse has been flying under the radar, a bit, and not enough drivers seem to know about it or they haven’t gotten a full explanation of what the clearinghouse will contain and what it will be used for.

DeLorenzo said drivers have said to him, “Well, I don’t do drugs, so I don’t have to worry about this.”

“Actually, that’s not the case,” DeLorenzo said. “Everybody needs to know about this and get going on it.”

Starting in January, carriers will be required to query the database as part of the new-driver hiring process to ensure that the candidate does not have any failed tests or refusals in the previous three years. Carriers can only gain access to a driver’s record and make the mandatory query with the consent of the driver, and the only way a driver can give that consent is to be registered in the clearinghouse.

So, technically, drivers are not going to be required to register in the clearinghouse, DeLorenzo said. However, if you ever want to get hired anywhere again you’ll have to be registered in the clearinghouse.

“If you’re just kind of staying where you’re at, no intention of leaving, or if you are working for yourself, or if you are nearing retirement, you may decide not to register,” he said. “But in an industry with 100%-plus turnover, I know people are always looking for a new job, a different job, a better job. Any driver who’s going to apply for a new job after this rule goes into effect is going to have to have an account and is going to have to be able to go in.”

DeLorenzo explained why the clearinghouse has been set up this way. Today, when someone applies for a job, they get tested as part of the process. They fail the test and the carrier doesn’t hire them. Three months later, they stay clean just long enough, the apply somewhere else and that company hires them, not knowing about the prior failure.

Starting January 6, carriers will be required to upload notices into the clearinghouse of all failed drug tests by drivers and driving applicants, as well as all refusals to test, as they occur.

The database is designed to go back three years. At first, employers will have to conduct both electronic queries within the clearinghouse and manual inquiries with previous employers to cover the preceding three years to meet the mandated hiring requirement. As of January 6, 2023, they will only need to check the clearinghouse.

Drivers’ records will only contain positive tests and refusals. When a prospective employer makes a query, they will be told if the record is clean. If there are entries, they will be able to get more details.

If a driver has a failed test, the database will also record whether that driver has completed the return-to-duty process.

Drivers will also be able to review their own records, DeLorenzo said, which is another incentive to register. If a driver finds an entry they wish to dispute, they can file a DataQ request to have it corrected.

The clearinghouse website is already up and running. Drivers can go to Clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov to read about the clearinghouse and to register their email addresses for any updates. Actual registration is scheduled to begin in October.

DeLorenzo said he is hoping to raise more awareness about the clearinghouse now so they start registering in October instead of finding out the hard way come February when they try to apply for a job.

“What I’m trying to avoid, actually, is human nature, which is to wait until the very last minute.”

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Drivewyze completes Missouri weigh installations, now fully deployed with 19 locations

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Drivewyze President and CEO Brian Heath noted that Missouri is a centralized state in the U.S., home to major trucking lanes connecting the west and east coasts. (Courtesy: DRIVEWYZE )

501 drivewyze Missouri.doc

DALLAS — Drivewyze has completed its service site rollout in Missouri at all 19 weigh stations across the state. Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass is now operational at all Missouri locations, delivering weigh station bypass opportunities to its customers driving in the state.

“Our bypass service network is second to none in Missouri,” said Brian Heath, president and CEO of Drivewyze. “Drivewyze is the largest provider of weigh station bypass service by a factor of almost two — with more than 750 service sites in North America. By providing more bypass opportunities than our competitors, we enable our customers to earn a higher safety return on investment than anyone else in the industry. The time has never been better for carriers to adopt weigh station bypass, or switch away from transponder-based systems. Now, they can maximize our bypass services in Missouri and enjoy the same extended coverage of our transponder-free services offer across the country.”

The final four activated Missouri Drivewyze sites are located in Kearney (northbound), Platte City (northbound), and Willow Springs (both east and westbound). Kearney is on I-35, northeast of Kansas City (between Kansas City and Des Moines, Iowa); Platte City is on I-29, northwest of Kansas City (between KC and Omaha, Nebraska); and Willow Springs is on Highway 60/63, southeast of Springfield.

“Missouri is a centralized state in the U.S., home to major trucking lanes connecting the west and east coasts,” Heath said. “With hundreds of trucking companies based in the state, we are pleased to offer state-wide services to all carriers operating in Missouri, as well as those passing through. This is another step forward for Drivewyze — and our customers — and we look forward to continue revolutionizing the freight industry with world-class service and technology. More bypasses not only improve a carrier’s bottom line, it makes a positive impact on driver’s lives.”

Carriers can eliminate the cost and administration of traditional transponders with Drivewyze. The Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass service is integrated with existing in-cab equipment like electronic logging devices, smartphones, tablets and other in-cab telematics systems. Customers can now receive bypass opportunities in 42 states and two Canadian provinces.

The Drivewyze PreClear weigh station bypass application is available on a number of Drivewyze partner platforms, including Omnitracs, Orbcomm, PeopleNet, Transflo, Rand McNally, Zonar, Platform Science, ISSAC and Switchboard. The application is also available for drivers to download on Android and iOS-based tablets or smartphones.

Fleets can request a free weigh station activity report to help them determine how much time and money they could save by using Drivewyze PreClear.

Drivewyze comes with a free Weigh Station Heads-Up service for real-time notifications at more than 1,200 weigh stations and inspection sites nationwide.

To learn more about Drivewyze, please visit www.drivewyze.com. 8

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