While Texans are accustomed to living life free of excessive state-level taxes, they were in for a shock when their own U.S. Senator, Republican John Cornyn, used his national platform to advocate for the establishment of a truck-only vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax at the federal level. At a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing titled, “Funding and Financing Options to Bolster American Infrastructure,” Sen. Cornyn reiterated his support of a truck-only VMT as a means for alleviating the current deficit in the Highway Trust Fund.
Sen. Cornyn’s support for this proposal is not new, but it has gained renewed momentum in the past several months. Congress is desperately looking for ways to establish new revenue streams for the Highway Trust Fund, which is the source of funding for national infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, our elected lawmakers are currently refusing to consider raising the federal fuel tax and indexing it to inflation. This would serve as the best method for increasing revenue today as the fuel tax is easy to administer and widely accepted by the public. The federal fuel tax, currently set at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel, has not been raised since 1993, yet in just the last 10 years, 37 states have increased their own individual fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure projects. This statistic demonstrates that the public is ready and willing to pay a little bit more at the pump to provide our country with the funding needed to create the infrastructure network we all deserve.
Yet our lawmakers’ hesitancy around the federal fuel tax is leading them to pursue alternatives like the truck-only VMT. This option is simply flawed policy. While Sen. Cornyn acknowledged during the hearing that this was not a perfect solution, he seemed committed to moving forward with it anyway. The Congressional Budget Office’s Director of Microeconomic Analysis, Joseph Kile, Ph.D., told Sen. Cornyn that a VMT, including the truck-only option, does have the potential to raise significant revenue. However, he cautioned that the mechanisms for collecting and enforcing the tax have not yet been developed, and the cost for doing so would be substantial. This is just one of the many concerns that TCA shares regarding the VMT, and we have voiced this on Capitol Hill through our VMT Guidance Document.
Why are elected officials proposing that the trucking industry serves as the guinea pig for a new VMT scheme? After a year in which trucking rose to prominence by delivering for our country in a time of crisis, this new target on our backs is shocking. Although simple physics tells us that heavy-duty trucks inflict more wear and tear on highways than a passenger vehicle, trucks only account for four percent of vehicles on the road. Yet still, we pay a disproportionate amount beyond our fair share, with trucking contributing nearly half of all revenues to the Highway Trust Fund. And we are willing to pay more through an increased federal fuel tax. As Sen. Cornyn noted, our highway system currently is and should continue to be financed through user fees – but only if all users pay equitably.
We are disappointed that Sen. Cornyn continues to see trucking as a cash cow for infrastructure spending, and we encourage him to speak with the hardworking men and women in his home state who make a living in the trucking industry. They would tell him that trucking already sees razor thin margins, and that his proposal of a 25-cent truck-only VMT would cost them thousands, putting many Texan small businesses out of business. Thanks to Sen. Cornyn, Texas is on its well on its way to a reputation of bigger – not better – taxes for the trucking industry.