On February 18, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) re-introduced their Safe & Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (SETA) as HR 763—essentially the same bill they co-sponsored in the last congress and which eventually gathered 54 co-sponsors—and following last week’s Coalition for Transportation Productivity / AgHaul Fly-In, the process of gathering co-sponsors is in motion. As of today, an additional 4 co-sponsors have joined the two lead sponsors: Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota), Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin), Rep. Mike Ross (D-Arkansas), and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Georgia)—showing, at this early stage, the same evenly bipartisan support that the last congress’s SETA attracted.
Truck weight reform is gaining force and visibility in this Congress. We are pleased to observe that the Pulp & Paperworkers Resource Council, a nationwide coalition of hourly forest products mill workers who, for 21 years, have staged annual fly-ins to the nation’s capital to tell lawmakers about the issues that affect their jobs, included truck weight reform as one of the three central issues they considered crucial to the U.S. forest industry’s recovery when they worked Capitol Hill the week of February 1. PPRC’s statement asserted that “transport is a significant and increasing component of the ultimate product cost.” We thank PPRC’s contingent of 52 volunteer activists for supporting our push at such a critical time.
Truck weight reform received additional visibility when Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minnesota) introduced yet a third truck-weight reform bill (that is, in addition to SETA and Sen. Susan Collins’s Maine-Vermont bill, S 112) to conform specifically to the situation in Minnesota. Although pitched as a nationwide reform bill, Rep. Cravaack’s Truck Weight Uniformity Act of 2011 (HR 801), introduced February 18, proposes terms that Minnesota applies seasonally to certain classes of cargo as the nationwide upper limit on Interstate trucking—99,000 pounds on six axles, plus a 5% “tolerance.” Like the Maine/Vermont bill, Rep. Cravaack’s bill does not call for additional incremental charges for the additional tonnage, nor does it require states to report periodically to the federal DOT on impacts.
Rep. Cravaack has made certain claims about his bill’s supposed superiority to SETA on the score of its eliminating the extra charges (up to $250 per year) that SETA imposes on trucks that adopt the new configuration. However, the National Taxpayers Union—the influential anti-tax organization—disputes that characterization, viewing the proposed supplement to the existing federal Heavy Vehicle Use Tax as a justifiable charge associated with what is—for the Interstate system—a new type of vehicle.