Spear attacks lawmakers, pledges action

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LAS VEGAS, NV – The president and Chief Executive Officer of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) launched a blistering attack on the record of U.S. lawmakers on Monday, pledging to take action on issues ranging from taxation to Hours of Service.

“Trucking is already one of the most regulated and taxed industries in America. In the eyes of some elected officials, we look like a money-filled piƱata. I’m here to tell you that those days, these impressions of our industry, are over,” said Chris Spear, when delivering his first State of the Industry address as association head. “Ask the State of New York, which just lost in court its push to toll our industry. Like-minded states, you’re on notice. We’re watching you. And to the anti-truck groups, hear this: If you want to throw the first proverbial punch, you’d better knock us down. Because you will feel the one we throw back.”

“Unlike Washington, there’s no room in the real world for complacency or incompetence,” he added. “Recent years have brought us a Washington that’s plagued by government shutdowns, filibusters, and an electorate that, at its best, boasts a working majority, not a voting majority. Worse yet, skilled legislators and dealmakers like Alan Simpson [a Wyoming senator he once worked for] retired or quit out of sheer frustration, leaving very few leaders capable of teaching the art of legislating.”

Spear blamed extreme ideology for many of the challenges. “Sound public policies such as funding our nation’s infrastructure are being suffocated by a bunch of cubical-dwelling ideologues who think it’s cool to shut down our government,” he said, stressing that compromise is possible without sacrificing conviction.

As much as he believes in the art of compromise, Spear was clear that the association is looking to take decisive action.

The ATA is looking to secure two key victories this December, including a permanent fix to the Hours of Service mandate, and pre-empting states from adding new meal and rest break requirements for those who operate across state lines.

He’s also looking for tax reform: “I’m not suggesting others [transportation modes] pay more, but I do believe we should pay less, especially when the trucking industry is already taxed at the pump and fighting multiple federal and state proposals to add new tolls.” A cut of five points in the corporate tax rate would support critical investments in technology and driver pay alike, he said.

With congestion costing the trucking industry an estimated US $49.6 billion a year, Spear stressed there is a need to participate in efforts to secure the communication spectrums needed to support Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure connections for autonomous vehicles, too. “Autonomous vehicle technology is real, folks, and it’s here whether we like it or not. If properly developed, it has the potential to dramatically improve safety and reduce congestion.”

It wasn’t the only reference to congestion-causing challenges.

“Washington’s political paralysis continues to shortchange our nation’s roads and bridges. Instead of a fuel tax, Washington’s pulling money away from competing discretionary spending priorities such as our military and cancer research. It gives ideologues a platform,” Spear added.

He referred to tolls on existing road and bridge construction as nothing less than extortion. “These policies are a disease. If not treated, they’ll spread to other states and wreak havoc on our industry’s ability to move freight seamlessly across the nation,” he said.

The ATA Highway Policy Committee has been asked to advocate for dedicated, sustainable funding for federally administered roads and bridges.

Such policy wins will rely on lobbying, and Spear is clearly positioning ATA as a loud voice. As many as 75 industry executives already travel to Washington each week to tell lawmakers that they expect them to vote on key issues. “That steady drumbeat will move the needle,” he said. And if a state issue has national implications, he promised the ATA will answer the call of state trucking associations which ask for help.

The trucking industry certainly brings economic might to any policy battle. If the nation’s trucking industry’s revenue were expressed as Gross Domestic Product, it would be the 18th largest economy in the world, Spear said. “We are the backbone of our economy and a pillar of our nation’s security.”

Spear also lauded the benefits of trade, raising concerns about trying to reopen the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and how Asian Rim countries would respond by signing a future agreement with China. “America relies on free trade, and trucking is key,” he said.

In addition to helping ATA members prepare for a recent call for speed limiters, “we should expect movement on long-awaited decisions impacting Electronic Logging Devices, sleep apnea, drug clearinghouse, young drivers, parking, the Compliance Safety Accountability program, as well as minimum insurance,” he added, referring to other files.

“You deserve to win. That’s my vision for ATA,” Spear said. “Winning.”

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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