Graves pushes Congress to reaffirm commitment to highways

Oct. 7, 2014
New poll shows strong support among U.S. citizens for transportation infrastructure improvements and strong resistance to paying for them

SAN DIEGO. Congress must recognize that investing in the nation’s infrastructure has become critical and that it must somehow raise the money to do it, the president and CEO of the American Trucking Assns. said Monday.

In his annual address to ATA members, Bill Graves told attendees of the ATA convention in San Diego that leaders have let Americans believe that somehow infrastructure improvements will just appear and that a new poll conducted for ATA by Public Opinion Strategies showed that Americans generally view improving the transportation infrastructure as a high priority, but they oppose options for paying for it.

The poll released at the ATA meeting by Public Opinion Strategies partner and co-founder Neil Newhouse found that 48% of Americans believe we should spend more money on transportation infrastructure; only K-12 public education got stronger support for more spending among spending priorities offered in the survey.

But by a large margin – ranging from 62% to 76% - Americans opposed all four options offered to pay for better infrastructure:

  • Raising federal income taxes by 1%, earmarking the additional funds for the Highway Trust Fund
  • Raising federal taxes on gas and diesel five cents a year, every other year for the next eight years
  • Double the state fee to register vehicles
  • Placing a toll on all interstate highways in the country

“Everybody knows what we need to do, everybody knows how important it is to this country, but everyone wants someone else to pay for it,” Graves told ATA.

“Infrastructure is not free and it’s not cheap and it’s not going to be repaired, be built and be expanded by osmosis,” Graves said.  “That’s why it’s so critical that our national leaders start leading on the issue and stop politically pandering and posturing – posturing that is having the very negative and unintended consequence of fooling Americans into believing that there really are ‘pennies from heaven.’”

Graves also criticized some conservatives in Congress for proposing and supporting efforts to cut back the federal highway program and push the responsibility to the states. For example, during Senate consideration in July of the highway bill extension through May 2015, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) offered an amendment that would eliminate all federal transportation funding and taxes except what would be needed for interstate highways. The amendment failed but it did garner 28 votes, all from Republicans.

“The most damaging element of that type of approach is those members of Congress who have been suggesting that ‘devolving’ the program to the states is the answer,” Graves said. “Devolution is simply code for ‘passing the buck’ or in this case ‘passing the responsibility for raising a buck’ to someone else.”

Graves said he believes ATA can be more effective in the future in pushing for a fix in this area due to its recent reorganization and focused effort in a few key areas.

“Everything we do, or try to do, on Capitol Hill somehow or another revolves around the issue of safety,” Graves said. “This is not just a recommitment to safety, but an elevated game plan designed to make the entire trucking industry safer….We want to be better in our assessment of which safety related initiatives truly work and how our industry and the motoring public will benefit from them.”

This is the approach ATA has taken regarding the 2013 changes in the hours-of-service (HOS) restart provisions, which the trucking industry believes has been a change counter to safety rather than an improvement because, among other things, it pushes more driving into more congested periods. Although the industry has not yet gotten Congress to suspend the changes, ATA officials are confident that Congress will do so during the post-election “lame duck” session.

ATA also will stand to resist overregulation, Graves assured members. “What challenges our industry is not the Congress.  What challenges our industry – for at least the next two years – is the power of the President and his administration to misregulate our industry.”

Graves added, however, that the concern is squarely focused on regulations that run counter to safety and efficiency. “Regulations, per se, are not bad; in fact there are a number of things we think the government should do to make the trucking industry safer and more profitable.”

For Graves entire remarks, click here.

Separately, ATA announced that Graves had signed a two-year contract extension through 2017 to remain ATA’s president and CEO.

About the Author

Avery Vise | Contributing editor

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