July 9, 2018
Other Voices

Policymakers wrongly targeting small business truckers

Joseph R. Sculley

Small business trucking companies have so much money, it's like they are sitting on piles of cash and they don't know what to do with it.

This must be what some leaders and policymakers in Connecticut, and elsewhere, are currently thinking. It's the only way to explain recent comments and policy proposals that target the trucking industry.

The truth is that the trucking industry deals with high capital costs, thin profit margins, and many barriers to entry. Most trucking companies, otherwise known as motor carriers, are small businesses.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, 91 percent of motor carriers operate six or fewer trucks. Yet, public policy in Connecticut has been favoring handouts to huge corporations, while making it difficult for small businesses like motor carriers just to get by.

The state Bond Commission recently voted to loan or give $80 million in taxpayer funds to 16 companies to "retain jobs" in Connecticut. In a booming economy, in which the national unemployment rate is 3.8 percent, some large corporations, including a defense contractor and a Fortune 500 company, were given taxpayer money for the unmeasurable purpose of "retaining jobs." To some, the natural next step is to target small businesses that have to fight hard for every dollar they earn.

This targeting includes talk about higher tolls for trucks, or even tolls only for trucks. These proposals are based on unsubstantiated statements about trucks "tearing up our roads" and doing multiple times more damage to roads than cars. The only thing that is quite literally tearing up our roads is the combination of chemicals applied to them followed by plows scraping over them to clear snow. But that issue requires a separate discussion.

Trucks are indeed heavier than cars, but they do not tear up our roads and bridges. There are already multiple laws and systems (and a litany of taxes and fees) in place to ensure that trucks use roads and bridges responsibly. The federal bridge formula requires the weight of a truck's freight to be spread out properly over a required number of axles and over a required vehicle length. This ensures that a truck won't inherently damage a road or a bridge. Weigh stations exist to enforce this. Motor carriers pay specific taxes and fees to fund this enforcement.

If one wants to discuss simple wear and tear to roads and bridges, fine. That's the reason for the creation of interstate compacts that allow Connecticut to collect fuel taxes and registration fees from out-of-state trucks. Funds are collected based mostly on miles driven in the state, so Connecticut gets its fair share in order to maintain the roads and bridges the trucks drive on.

Recent data show Connecticut received $26 million to $30 million annually from out-of-state trucks over the last couple of years from these systems. Additionally, when the Connecticut diesel tax increases on July 1, Connecticut will collect even more tax revenue from out-of-state trucks.

If policymakers do not value the funds generated by these systems, there is an alternative: Connecticut can leave the interstate compacts. Then Connecticut can get nothing from out-of-state trucks.

Either way, let's stop picking on the small businesses that bring food to grocery stores, fuel to homes and gas stations, and medical supplies to hospitals and pharmacies, among other critical functions in our economy.

Joseph R. Sculley is the president of the Motor Transport Association of CT, which represents small, medium and large companies with commercial vehicles traveling state roads.

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