The truth about tolls and trucks
Once again lawmakers in Connecticut have set their sights on the trucking industry as they search for an easy scapegoat to bail themselves out from the deep fiscal hole Hartford has dug itself into.
Nobody understands the importance of safe and modern infrastructure more than truckers, which is why the industry is leading the call in Washington D.C. and across the country for critically needed investment in our nation’s roads and bridges. And while we welcome honest debate about how best to fund highway infrastructure, we must first address two egregious falsehoods being advanced by pro-tolling advocates in Hartford.
The first is the notion that trucks don’t pay their “fair share.” Pro-tolling advocates claim trucks based out-of-state travel through Connecticut without paying for the roads they use. Leaders in the House Majority have been quoted saying trucks “pay nothing in Connecticut” and “that has to change.” But that is not true – and it demonstrates a stunning lack of knowledge about how interstate commerce works in the United States.
The fact is Connecticut annually takes in roughly $28 million from out-of-state trucks via the International Fuel Tax Agreement and International Registration Plan. These agreements between the lower 48 states (and Canadian provinces) distribute a truck’s fuel taxes and registration fees to each of the states a truck passes through, proportionally based on mileage. All commercial vehicles are required to participate in this arrangement.
The idea that tolling trucks will produce anywhere near the revenue Connecticut’s infrastructure requires is absurd.
In other words, every truck you see in Connecticut—regardless of whether its license plate says Arizona or Calgary—is paying Connecticut for every mile it travels in the state. And while trucks account for only 5% of vehicle miles traveled, they pay 32% of all taxes owed by Connecticut motorists.
The second falsehood is that trucks do “80% of damage” to highways. Pro-tolling advocates don’t cite a source for this claim, perhaps because there isn’t a valid one. According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board, “there are prevalent misconceptions trucks damage pavements more than passenger cars.” That’s because pro-tolling advocates have spread bogus statistics like this for years.
The National Academy of Sciences explains that when a highway is properly designed, it will not be damaged by the traffic it is designed to support. What highway engineers know and understand is that weather and the environment – warm no-freeze climates, freeze and thawing cycles, precipitation and subgrade soil – are the primary cause of highway deterioration. Add to that the fact that in Connecticut, the state sprays a chemical mix comprised of magnesium chloride and sodium chloride on our highways to melt ice and snow, which tears up not only our roads, but our cars and trucks as well.
There should be no doubt regarding the true cause of highway deterioration.
The motoring public should care about these falsehoods, because this shortsighted proposal of “truck-only” tolls will ultimately impact them as much as it impacts the trucking industry. The idea that tolling trucks will produce anywhere near the revenue Connecticut’s infrastructure requires is absurd — after all, that is the stated reason Gov. Ned Lamont first backed away from the idea months ago. But the costs of such a foolish policy will be felt immediately, far and wide.
Trucks are on our roads for good reason: to deliver the goods that we all demand and the quality of life we all enjoy. Virtually every product we touch, consume and rely on in our daily lives can be traced to the back of a truck. When the cost of truck transportation goes up, the cost of everything goes up. This means increased costs for Connecticut’s manufacturers, retailers, mom-and-pop shops, service providers, homebuilders, farmers and consumers.
It cannot be ignored that Connecticut’s current budget woes have been exacerbated by the state’s horrid business climate. It ranks among the worst states to start a business, and eight out of 10 Connecticut companies say the business climate is declining. For far too long, the policies coming out of Hartford have driven companies and countless jobs away to other, more hospitable states.
And now lawmakers want to target the economy’s supply chain and try to turn it into a piggy bank. This will further increase the cost of doing business in Connecticut and only deepen the state’s budget shortfalls in the long run.
Moreover, voters are wise to the fact that once toll gantries go up, they do not come down. Once politicians find a source of revenue, they only look to expand it. The likely scenario is the state spends millions to put up “truck-only” tolls, faces certain litigation in federal court over their constitutionality, falls well short of the revenue needed to pay back federal loans, and then simply extends the tolls to all vehicles.
Lawmakers in Hartford say they’re tired of hearing this proposal is a slippery slope. But the fact is slippery slopes are exactly what leads a state down into this kind of fiscal mess —with unfunded pension liabilities alone now totaling $38,000 per every resident.
The people of Connecticut should ask themselves this: if lawmakers decide to stand up “truck-only” tolls, how long will it be until they flip the switch to start tolling cars? Given Hartford’s well-documented history of budget mismanagement, there is good reason to worry.
Chris Spear is the President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.
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