At a recent hearing, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heard loud and clear that the trucking industry should not serve as the guinea pig for any seismic change in how the United States funds infrastructure. The hearing, titled “Long-term Solvency of the Highway Trust Fund: Lessons Learned from the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives Program and Other User-based Revenue Solutions, and How Funding Uncertainty Affects the Highway Programs,” was celebrated by all legislators in attendance as providing much-needed feedback in a debate which has been somewhat one-sided up to this point.
The sense of urgency was palpable. Congress is desperately trying to find ways to pay not only for the highway reauthorization bill which must be passed by September 30, but also the American Jobs Plan, which was recently released by the White House and which advocates for an additional $2.3 trillion to be spent on a broad range of issues now being defined as infrastructure. However, instead of utilizing the revenue collection method which currently exists to fund infrastructure – the fuel tax – Congress is taking this opportunity to explore transforming the entire system to a new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax.
As TCA has repeatedly stated to our nation’s lawmakers, the VMT tax, while an important tool for accounting for fuel efficient and electric vehicles which do not currently contribute their fair share for their use of the roadways, is not ready for wide-scale implementation. There are a host of questions which have not yet been answered, such as how the tax will be collected and how evasion and fraud will be minimized. The hearing’s witnesses largely agreed with TCA’s viewpoint and explained to the committee that before any formal changes are made, a nationwide pilot program must be conducted to gather the necessary data to ensure the system of the future is as fair, equitable, and secure as it can be.
Two witnesses, Dr. Patricia Hendren of the Eastern Transportation Coalition and Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, went a step further to state that Congress should not look to the trucking industry to spearhead this change to a new taxation method. Several Senators previously voiced support for implementing a truck-only VMT, falsely believing the industry was somehow ready and willing to accept this change. This could not be farther from the truth. As Hendren and Poole noted, trucking has unique challenges and is an incredibly diverse industry, which would potentially make this change even harder to implement than for passenger vehicles.
TCA is hopeful that this hearing, along with our advocacy and that of others within the industry, will finally convince Members of Congress that more research is desperately needed before the switch to a VMT can be mandated for trucking. As the committee’s chairman, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), noted during the hearing, trucking is eager to pay our fair share into the Highway Trust Fund for our use of the highways. Yet we want to ensure that fairness is maintained, and not exploited, as we move toward rebuilding the premier infrastructure network we rely on daily to move our country forward.