Looking Ahead to 2015

The New Year brings a new Congress.  What can we expect from the 114th Congress?  There’s no question that the Republican-controlled House and Senate will be more business-friendly, possibly rolling back some of the more troublesome provisions of Obamacare and working to get the Keystone Pipeline approved.  On the transportation front, the new Congress will go into session Jan. 6 facing crumbling infrastructure and a fuel tax that falls way short of funding roads and other transportation programs.

Here’s an overview of the top NATSO issues that will be in play during 2015.

Highway Funding
Transportation funding will be the focus of the next highway bill and lawmakers have said all funding options are on the table.  Congress struggled to scrape together $11 billion for the current patch to the transportation reauthorization, which expires in May. A six-year reauthorization is estimated to cost $100 billion, but the current gas tax will only provide about 75 percent of that. When Congress tackles the issue of highway funding in 2015, it undoubtedly will spark fierce debate over how best to generate revenues for infrastructure construction and maintenance. Though NATSO and other transportation groups strongly support the fuel tax as the proven, most efficient way to fund infrastructure, the Republicans are unlikely to raise the motor fuels tax.

Tolling
As states scramble for infrastructure funding, some will focus their attentions on tolling. In May, the Obama Administration unveiled its transportation legislation, which would eliminate the longstanding ban against interstate tolls and allow states to use tolls to fund highway reconstruction, as well as other non-highway transportation spending including transit. NATSO joined with the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates in opposing the President’s plan and will continue to educate lawmakers about the detrimental effects of tolling on businesses and safety. NATSO is urging members to sign an online petition to let elected officials know that truckstops and travel plazas oppose the tolling of existing interstates. The petition is sponsored by ATFI, of which NATSO is a founding member. ATFI members believe that a viable, sustainable solution to America’s transportation funding needs must not include putting new tolls on existing interstates. Sign the petition at http://www.tollfreeinterstates.com.

Rest Area Commercialization
With state and federal transportation revenues continuing to decline, states will continue to ask for more flexibility in funding projects such as rest areas, and it’s possible that the idea of rest area commercialization may resurface.  The last time this proposal was considered during the Senate transportation reauthorization, it was soundly defeated by a vote of 12-86.  While this overwhelming margin makes the topic somewhat toxic, NATSO stands ready to mobilize once again should a proposal surface.

Comprehensive Tax Reform
President Obama on Dec. 19 signed into law legislation that revives more than 50 expired tax credits for 2014, including the $1-per-gallon biodiesel tax credit. Other provisions approved in tax extenders legislation included Section 179 expensing that allow small businesses to deduct certain property expenses from their taxes and bonus depreciation. The legislation also allowed for a tax credit for installation of alternative fueling infrastructure. Since 2003, Congress has steadily increased the amount of investment that small businesses can expense from $25,000 to $500,000. However, these expensing limits were temporary, and in 2014 they reverted to $25,000. The biodiesel tax credit expired Dec. 31, 2013. Congress extended the tax credits for just one year with the intention of addressing comprehensive tax reform in 2015.

Renewable Fuel Standard
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in November that it would not finalize a 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) until 2015. The announcement ignited criticism from refiners and business groups who think the RFS is unworkable. Several lawmakers also criticized EPA for the delay, saying it feeds uncertainty and frustration in the marketplace. Discussions already are underway on Capitol Hill regarding the need to reform the RFS.

Menu-Labeling Rule
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled its menu-labeling rule Nov. 25, requiring that retailers and vending machine operators list calorie information on menus and menu boards. The final rule applies to chain restaurants, convenience stores and similar retail food establishments and vending machines with 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name and offering substantially the same menu items for sale. Retailers and restaurants must comply with the rule by Dec. 1, 2015. Vending machine operators have until Dec. 1, 2016, to comply.  NATSO is developing a compliance toolkit that will be available to members soon.

Employers Facing Union Campaigns
Recent labor union activities have made it more important than ever for business owners to understand their legal rights and responsibilities when facing a union campaign. The NATSO Foundation in 2014 created a toolkit to help fuel retailers become familiar with the union organizing process and understand how to take advantage of opportunities to communicate with employees without violating the law.

Franchise-Employer Relationships
In 2014, NATSO developed a document detailing general guidelines to help petroleum retailers avoid joint-employer status in their dealer/franchise agreements. The guidelines were developed in response to the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling that McDonald’s can be held liable for labor violations by its franchise operators. That rule is expected to have significant ramifications for businesses on both ends of a franchise relationship if upheld by the courts. Specifically, it could set a new legal precedent regarding the degree to which franchisors are liable for franchisee employees.  The rule also could ease the way for the formation of national unions by franchisee employees that would be their exclusive agent for collective bargaining purposes.  In the petroleum industry, there are numerous business relationships that could be affected if the ruling stands. 

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman's photo

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman develops and executes communications strategies to advance NATSO’s public relations and advocacy goals. Tiffany also develops and oversees partnerships related to the NATSO Foundation’s public outreach initiatives. Tiffany lives in the D.C. metro area with her husband and their two sons.More
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