Spear, Foertsch: Barrasso tracking tax would derail America’s blue-collar boom

Spear, Foertsch: Barrasso tracking tax would derail America’s blue-collar boom

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President Donald Trump made a strong case for reelection in his State of the Union address, citing a nationwide “blue-collar” boom fueled by a pro-growth agenda that puts the American worker first. It was a message well-received by America’s truckers — the men and women on the front lines who actually drive our economy forward.

So we are disappointed to learn Sen. John Barrasso is considering a scheme — being cooked up behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. — to create a new, discriminatory tax on America’s truckers. The proposal, known as a “truck-only Vehicle Miles Traveled tax,” calls for government-mandated electronic devices inside privately-owned vehicles to track truckers’ movements and report them back to the Internal Revenue Service.

Using government-mandated electronic devices to track working Americans so the IRS can take more of their earnings away is perhaps a proposal we’d expect from a liberal governor in Connecticut or Rhode Island, but not a Republican U.S. senator from Wyoming. In fact, the Wyoming Legislature just finished rejecting a tolling scheme on I-80, because Wyomingites know a raw deal when they see one. Experts agree that a VMT concept is at least a decade away from even being technically feasible and would require an enormous expansion of the IRS in order to administer. Forcing such a short-sighted program through Congress before it’s ready for primetime would saddle voters with the wasteful costs of yet another big government program that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Worst of all, a tracking tax will jeopardize blue-collar trucking jobs across the country and knock the economy off its growth trajectory by hammering the most central and critical link in our nation’s supply chain. It’s hard to think up a policy more antithetical to the president’s blue-collar boom than this one.

Politicians inside the D.C. bubble should know that while the economy’s fundamentals remain strong, many truckers are fighting a perfect storm of market conditions and are in serious financial pain. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, more trucking companies closed in the first half of 2019 than in all of 2018 combined. The closings haven’t stopped since. In December, one of the largest carriers in America closed its doors, leaving 4,000 Americans without jobs.

Wyoming’s business community understands truck transportation is the very fuel that powers America’s economic engine. A tracking tax will be felt by businesses economy-wide — miners, refiners, stock growers, farmers, manufacturers and mom-and-pop store owners — all who will be forced to raise prices on consumers.

Trucking is an industry dominated by small, family-owned businesses. More than 91 percent of motor carriers operate fewer than six trucks. Trucking provides more than 17,000 jobs in Wyoming – that’s one out of every 12 jobs in the state. In fact, truck driver is the most common job in the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Iowa.

As President Trump has said, “When your trucks are moving, America is growing.” The more than 8.7 million Americans who work in trucking agree. For them, trucking is more than a business — it’s a way of life. It’s not an easy job, but they take it on to provide for their families and deliver a quality that Americans expect and enjoy.

What truckers ask for in return are partners in government who can appreciate the challenge of life on the road while maintaining a business that survives operating on razor-thin margins. The last thing they need is Republicans in Congress to force a new tax scheme that double- and triple-taxes them for roads they already pay significant sums to use, while giving all other road users a free pass.

Nobody sees the need for safe and secure roads and bridges more than truckers do, which is why our industry has led the charge for greater federal investment in infrastructure. While trucks account for only 4 percent of the vehicles on the road, the industry already pays half of the entire federal Highway Trust Fund user tab. And while we’re willing to pay more, Sen. Barrasso would be mistaken to interpret that as an open invitation for Congress to use truckers’ businesses as rolling piggy banks. Responsibly funding national infrastructure begins with a fair, viable and fiscally conservative source of user-fee revenue ready to address our immediate infrastructure needs from day one, as we work strategically toward a longer-term funding mechanism as gasoline becomes less prevalent over time.

But growing government payrolls in D.C. at the expense of trucking jobs across the country is not the answer.

When it comes to America’s infrastructure, President Reagan got it right. We hope Sen. Barrasso will listen.

Chris Spear is president & CEO of the American Trucking Associations, and Sheila Foertsch is Managing Director of the Wyoming Trucking Association.

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