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What the Republican Sweep Means for NATSO Issues

Posted in: Our Legislative and Regulatory Issues

It’s no secret that most business groups view last week’s decisive wins of Republicans in the  U.S. Senate as a major coup. After years of being marginalized, especially in the Senate, Republicans will shape the agenda when the 114th Congress goes into session in the first week of 2015.

What can we expect from the new Congress under Republican control? There’s no question they will be more friendly on business issues.  We are likely to see some action on corporate tax reform, and there’s already talk about reining in some of the more troublesome provisions of Obamacare such as returning to 40 hours as the definition of full-time employment. (NATSO plans to be engaged in both of these issues as part of our 2015 legislative agenda.)  In addition, we may see efforts to rollback burdensome menu-labeling requirements.  On the energy front, I would expect a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and perhaps a move to relax the Renewable Fuel Standard, if EPA doesn’t address it in its long-awaited rulemaking.

But it’s not ALL good news. Transportation issues are going to be challenging. Our highways and transportation infrastructure are crumbling, and the needs far exceed the revenues coming in to the highway trust fund.  Because of a reluctance to raise taxes, other measures that allow states to raise revenues -- such as tolling and rest area commercialization -- become more attractive. Now is the time for NATSO members to start reaching out to members of Congress -- old friends and new -- to reacquaint them with our issues.  Even if you’ve previously discussed the issues with your representatives or senators before,  it’s always good to reestablish that relationship and remind them of how important these issues are to you and your business.

Bumps in the Road Ahead

The Highway Bill:  Congress struggled to scrape together $11 billion for the current patch to the transportation reauthorization, which expires in May. Funding will be a major issue for a long-term bill, with a six-year reauthorization estimated to cost $100 billion. The current gas tax will only provide about 75 percent of that.  Would a Republican dominated Congress raise the gas tax shortly after they take over?  It’s not likely.  They are going to have to get creative to finance highways, and that is where the trouble lies.

Rest Area Commercialization: Republicans tend to be supportive of PPPs, or public-private partnerships. On its face, nothing sounds better than the idea of having a private business partner with the government, but the fact is when it comes to transportation projects, most of them are harmful at best and downright destructive at worst.  A few years ago, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) believed PPPs at rest areas could create a new revenue stream for states and introduced legislation to allow commercialization of rest areas.  Fortunately, NATSO members and other groups quickly mobilized, and that issue was soundly defeated.  But as Congress balks at increasing the gas tax and looks to give states more flexibility, this idea will certainly resurface.  Now is the time to educate your representatives and senators. For background information, click here

Tolling of Existing Interstates: Again, as states scramble for funding, tolling becomes attractive. Currently federal law prohibits the states from tolling existing interstates, though there are a few allowed exceptions under pilot programs.  States and other groups continue to pressure Congress to allow more tolls, and for the most part, Republicans are more receptive to “states rights” arguments.  After all, a vote to allow states to toll if they choose is not the same as a vote to implement tolls or raise fuel taxes.  That is why it is imperative that we educate Congress on tolling.  NATSO partnered with the American Trucking Associations to create the Alliance for Toll Free Interstates. The ATFI website has a wealth of information on why tolling is a bad idea.  NATSO also has resources on its website that you can use to brush up on the issue before talking to your legislator.

While the new Republican majority will undoubtedly be very pro-business, when it comes to our top transportation issues we cannot be complacent.  The good news is, once they are educated, most members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats,  quickly understand why tolling and rest area commercialization are bad ideas.  But we need your help to reach out and educate them as quickly as we can.   

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About the Author

Holly Alfano

Holly Alfano

Holly Alfano represents the interests of truckstops and travel plazas before Congress and regulatory agencies. She leads NATSO's advocacy efforts on tax and fuel issues. 

Where To Find Me