July 31 was a “crazy day” at the White House, according to Robert Voltmann, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Associations (TIA).
As news broke that John Kelly, President Trump’s new chief of staff, had fired communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Voltmann and the TIA leadership team were at the White House meeting with public liaison official Melissa Fwu.
Voltmann called the hour-long meeting with the official who previously worked for Transportation secretary Elaine Chao “positive,” especially since he considered the previous administration to be less friendly to small business.
One major discussion area was tax reform, with TIA leaders stressing how much the economy has changed since the last time there was a major overhaul in the 1980s.
“Service companies need to be considered” when tax reform is debated later this year, Voltmann said.
He noted while the largest freight broker, C.H. Robinson, is approximately the 200th largest company on the Fortune 500, its tax liabilities are in the top 100.
“That should change,” he said.
Another area that needs to change, Voltmann said, are attitudes toward raising federal fuel taxes.
He said while everybody likes talking about infrastructure, nothing is likely to happen “until somebody gives cover to the 31 Freedom Caucus members” in the House of Representatives.
“Anti-tax organizations have to say ‘we now consider the fuel tax to be a good tax because it invests in our future.’ Until that happens there will not be a vote in the House of Representatives on the fuel tax. And without the fuel tax there is no new investment,” he warned.
The TIA leaders also urged the Trump administration to “return to interstate commerce,” especially when it comes to developing national standards for hiring motor carriers. Previous efforts in Congress to pass legislation that would ensure carriers are properly registered, have minimum insurance, and have not received an “unsatisfactory” safety rating have not been successful.
Another area of discussion was slow pace of appointing officials to leadership positions within the Department of Transportation, such as a nominees to lead the the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We have been “grossly hamstrung by a lack of political staff at the agencies,” he said. “It needs to be fixed quickly.”
Voltmann, who has led TIA since 1997, was previously a political appointee himself, being picked by President George H.W. Bush as chief of staff to Interstate Commerce commissioner Ed Emmett. That appointed position is an example of one that does not require Senate confirmation, unlike a nominee to run FMCSA.
Voltmann said permanent staffers at federal government agencies “do an outstanding job of keeping trains running on time.” However, he suggested they are not as equipped as political choices to recognize “how the country is changing” and the fresh direction their agencies should move toward.
In a statement shortly after the meeting, TIA Chairman Jason Beardall publicly thanked the Trump administration for taking the meeting.
Beardall, president of England Logistics, said other topics discussed were frivolous lawsuits based on bad safety data, autonomous vehicles, and overtime classification limits.