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Trucking, labor optimistic ahead of White House infrastructure meeting

Trump and ATA at the White House in 2017. Credit: ATA

A highly anticipated meeting between President Trump and Congressional leaders on April 30 will likely set the groundwork for an infrastructure bill and could determine President Trump’s appetite for raising the federal gasoline tax to pay for it.

The infrastructure summit, which will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), has been characterized by some as an opportunity for Democrats to engage the president on non-infrastructure issues such as immigration and the results of the Mueller investigation.

But Schumer announced a day ahead of the meeting that he will propose rolling back parts of the Republican 2017 tax cuts to help pay for an infrastructure package, according to reports.

“The trucking industry sees this as a nonpartisan issue, and sees the current government – this president, this Congress – as a unique opportunity to do something,” Bill Sullivan, Executive Vice President for Advocacy with the American Trucking Associations (ATA), in a media call before the meeting. “We understand there are going to be politics surrounding that debate and that negotiation, but we believe this a moment where we can actually move ahead.”

Sullivan was joined by Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the call, and Tom Trotter, Legislative Affairs Representative for the AFL-CIO, in a show of support by business and labor to pay for an infrastructure plan by raising the gas tax. The ATA and the U.S. Chamber support raising the gas tax by 20 cents over four years.

“We’re counting on Speaker Pelosi and President Trump to break the gridlock in Washington so we can end the gridlock on our streets, and we have high hopes that they’re going to be able to do just that,” Bradley said. “If business and labor can come together on this issue, there’s no reason Republicans and Democrats can’t come together and do the same thing. We all know what needs to be done, we just need the political courage to come out and do it.”

Trotter pointed out that while the current gas tax – which has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 – is easy to apply, “it’s just no longer producing the revenues needed to maintain existing roads and transit, let alone bring the highways up to 21st century standards. The cost of action is high, in the billions, but the cost of inaction is even higher.”

While President Trump has focused his previous attempts at paying for infrastructure through leveraging public-private investment, he has also been receptive to a gas tax increase in previous private meetings with members of Congress, according to some media reports, and there is speculation that Pelosi may attempt to nail him down on that.

As for Schumer’s tax rollback proposal, Bradley asserted that trying to relitigate fights over tax reform as part of infrastructure negotiations “isn’t going to help us get to a solution,” he said. “Infrastructure has a chance to be one of those rare bipartisan issues, but it’s not going to remain bipartisan if there’s an insistence on bringing in unrelated fights to the middle of it.”

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.