ATA lobbying hard

After a contentious struggle to cut overhead and reorganize, the chief executive of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) believes his group now stands poised to refocus its energies on a single external goal - lobbying."Two and half years ago, you - the members of ATA - directed that we undergo radical change to focus on one core business. That is the business of representing you in the halls of Congress,

After a contentious struggle to cut overhead and reorganize, the chief executive of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) believes his group now stands poised to refocus its energies on a single external goal - lobbying.

"Two and half years ago, you - the members of ATA - directed that we undergo radical change to focus on one core business. That is the business of representing you in the halls of Congress, before regulatory agencies and in the courthouses around this country," said Walter B. McCormick Jr., ATA's president and CEO, in his keynote address at the group's San Diego convention. "Today, every single dollar of your dues goes directly into representing you. In fact, we've increased resources to Capitol Hill by 50%."

McCormick also noted that ATA has reduced its staff by 40% since 1997, cut annual expenses by $8 million and reduced combined membership dues some 35%.

The structure of membership dues had been one of the most contentious issues of ATA's reorganization since McCormick succeeded Tom Donohue as CEO three years ago. Under a plan formulated by the Wren committee in 1997, dues were to be calculated as a percentage of a member company's revenue, period. In other words, no special deals.

With the reorganization largely behind him, McCormick feels confident that the new "lean and mean ATA" is now in a better position to fight for trucking interests both on at the national and state level.

"Today, we have a strong member-driven ATA - an ATA with power and clout," he said in his speech. McCormick pointed to the organization's successful efforts to block the Dept. of Transportation's proposed hours-of-service reform and the opening of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower oil prices - and thereby lower the cost of diesel fuel - as hallmarks of ATA strategy in the future.

"It's been a great year, but now it is time to build on our success," he said. That includes heavy political funding activity through the group's political action committee, TruckPAC. From $150,000 in campaign contributions in 1997, TruckPAC passed $800,000 this year and is aiming to build a $1 million war chest by 2001.

"This is the work of the ATA. We are very proud of what we have done," McCormick said.

U.S. Freightways is awaiting a decision that could affect the deductibility of license, permit and fee expenses claimed by thousands of carriers. The Internal Reveunue Service (IRS) disallowed its deductions, saying they should be capitalized. The U.S. Tax Court agreed with the IRS.

The case is now on appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where the National Federation of Independent Business and American Trucking Assns. have filed a joint "friend of the court" brief in support of U.S. Freightways. That court's ruling will be binding on all courts in trucking-heavy Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana unless the verdict is overturned by the Supreme Court or Congressional action to change the law.

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