The Washington Report: Progress

by Craig Piercy, ACPA Washington Advocate

It’s go time!

Since 2004, concrete pump owners have been required to pay federal excise taxes on 100 percent of the fuel they consume, even though on average, more than 55 percent of it is used in offhighway, jobsite operations.

The ACPA has consistently advocated for concrete pump fuel tax relief in Congress, and we have achieved notable success in raising awareness on the issue. But without a comprehensive rewrite of the highway bill, we’ve not had the appropriate legislative vehicle to enact changes in the law. However, it looks like this situation is about to change for the better.

As I have outlined at length in my previous columns, the Highway Trust Fund is functionally insolvent. Revenues raised from federal excise taxes (levies on gas and diesel, truck chassis, tires and an annual heavy use fee) are no longer enough to support the maintenance and expansion of the national highway system.

Political fear and gridlock have prevented Congress from enacting a long-term solution to the highway trust fund problem that will invariably require tax increases and/or user fees. Instead, lawmakers continue to kick the can down the road, passing short-term transfers of money from the general fund to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat for the short term. Most recently, before leaving for its August break, Congress enacted extension of the highway bill (MAP-21) and transferred enough money into the Highway Trust Fund to cover the expected expenditures through May 30, 2015.

It is looking increasingly likely that the Republicans will assume control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. While on the surface, you might imagine a unified Republican Congress would create even more gridlock—and that certainly appears to be the case for many issues—there is reason to hope that, for transportation policy, the new political alignment may yield progress. There is increasing recognition on both sides of the aisle that the current ad hoc approach has made it difficult for states and localities to conduct long-term transportation planning, and that Congress needs to enact a comprehensive, long-term surface transportation policy. The current highway bill extension through next May gives the transportation committees in the House and Senate enough time to develop legislation and get it to their respective chambers floors. I also think that individual members of Congress are hungry for legislative accomplishments that have a tangible impact on their home states and districts.

Overall, the situation looks more promising than it has in years, and the ACPA is about to execute its advocacy campaign. Here’s what to expect.

By the time you read this, Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX) will have introduced the Concrete Pump Tax Fairness Act of 2014 in the House of Representatives. This legislation will repeal federal fuel excise taxes for concrete pumps and replace it with a per-mile user fee—five cents a mile for smaller pumps, seven cents a mile for larger ones. The bill will also create a funding stream to assist the government and participating pumpers in implementing the necessary technology and developing the appropriate standards.

The passage of this bill will provide significant tax relief for nearly every concrete pump owner, in some cases resulting in an 80 percent reduction of their annual federal excise tax bill! The legislation would also provide the federal government with important experience about how to manage a tax collection system based on miles used rather than gallons consumed. As previously mentioned, sustainability of the highway trust fund will require Congress to develop new funding mechanisms. Mileage-based user fees have long been advocated by transportation policy experts, and while they are still somewhat controversial, the idea is gaining acceptance on both sides of the aisle.

The next step is to get as many members of Congress as possible to sign on as “co-sponsors” of the legislation. The number of co-sponsors will demonstrate the breadth of our support and make it easier for our champions to have the legislation’s provisions attached to the transportation bill when Congress reconvenes next year.

The ACPA Board of Directors held its fall meeting in Washington D.C., and many members of the board traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress and ask them to become co-sponsors.

Now it’s your turn! ACPA headquarters will soon be sending every member instructions, talking points and background information so that they too can contact their members of Congress to get their support. We will also need to keep the pressure up next year as the new Congress convenes and consideration of the transportation bill gets underway.