Fleet Management

Paul Ryan: Highway Bill Takes Backseat to Tax Reform

April 30, 2015, by David Cullen

Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Photo: speaker.gov
Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Photo: speaker.gov

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has strongly indicated that there’s no way around applying another short-term patch to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.

Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor media event on Thursday, Rep. Ryan said that there just isn’t enough time left before the current highway funding bill expires on May 31 to make the reform of corporate taxes to the degree he is seeking part of the package.

Both Ryan and President Obama favor repatriation— using revenue from taxing corporate profits earned overseas to help ensure long-term funding of surface-transportation infrastructure investments.

Ryan explained that he is aiming to achieve “limited” tax reform this year, mostly related to the corporate tax rate, according to a report posted by The Monitor. Ryan said if that is accomplished, it will amount to a “down payment” on completing more extensive tax reform in 2017—that is, if the GOP takes the White House in the next election.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee has released its draft of the 2016 THUD (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development) funding bill. The measure, which falls far short of the funding level sought by the White House, would provide over $40.25 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal-aid Highways Program.

“This [amount] is equal to the fiscal year 2015 level,” stated a press release issued by the Committee’s majority. The statement also noted for the record that “this funding is contingent on the enactment of new transportation authorization legislation, as the current authorization expires this year.”

That level of funding should disappoint highway advocates. But trucking interests should welcome other elements of the package as now marked up.

For starters, the 2016 fiscal bill would not only keep the current suspension of the 34-hour restart provisions of the Hours of Service rule in effect until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration completes its required study of that rule change.

The kicker is that THUD 2016 would also only revoke the rule suspension if  FMCSA’s impact report shows that “drivers who operated under the restart provisions… demonstrated statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity and work schedules” vs. drivers who had run under the rules in place before the 2013 change.

The bill would also prevent FMCSA from further pursuing a rulemaking to up the liability insurance required of motor carriers above the current $750,000 minimum amount.

But wait, there’s more.

Another provision would allow the use of 33-ft doubles trailers and yet another prevent FMCSA from conducting roadside inspections wirelessly until the agency can demonstrate to Congress that doing so wouldn’t “conflict with existing non-federal electronic screening systems.”

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