SAN DIEGO — In an address befitting of his last name, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear struck an assertive tone Monday in recounting a year of legislative and legal victories for the industry.

It was a very good year for the ATA. After years of frustration awaiting legislation to pay for critically needed road and bridge repairs, an infrastructure bill finally become law with billions are dedicated to road and bridge repairs.

Victory over truck-only tolling

The industry saw a long fight against truck-only tolling in Rhode Island end with a federal court victory. And the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a vaccine mandate that truckers and motor carriers opposed.

“Since taking this job, I’ve made it clear that your association’s primary objective is winning … winning on behalf of the members and this great industry, no matter who the electorate sends to Washington,” Spear told ATA members on Monday.

Spear took a victory lap over the recent overturning of Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks policy that assessed tolls only from heavy-duty trucks. The ATA claimed from the outset that the program was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

“Make no mistake,” Spear said. “The impact of this victory extends far beyond Rhode Island’s borders. Any state debating a similar target on our industry has now received an unmistakable message: Don’t mess with trucking.”

Infrastructure funding, finally

The Infrastructure and Jobs Act finally became law under the pen of President Joe Biden. President Donald Trump made it a top priority but failed to deliver.

“The last administration talked a good game, and numbers, as high as $2 trillion in funding,” Spear said. “But after four years in office, including two with the House and Senate majority, Republicans never introduced an infrastructure bill. Not a single piece of legislation. Or as we say in Wyoming, ‘All hat, no cattle.’”

The Jobs Act included a program for training and hiring younger drivers to help shrink a driver shortage that the ATA pegs at 80,000.

“The naysayers can whine all they want, but this is a step toward safety, not away,” Spear said.

Excise tax fight in sight?

The ATA didn’t fight with everybody. It worked with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safeway program to help influence emissions regulations even as it closely watched growing adoption of zero-tailpipe-emission electric trucks. Spear said 66 trucks today emit the same amount of pollution as a single truck did in 1988.

Spear suggested renewed emphasis on overturning a 105-year-old law that adds a 12% federal excise tax to the purchase of a new truck. The tax not only makes new trucks more expensive, it limits the purchase of safety and convenience equipment that helps retain drivers.

“This tax relic adds up to $25,000 to the cost of every power unit purchased today,” Spear said. “That hurts good-paying manufacturing jobs. That limits our ability to support the global supply chain. And it reduces the number of safe and environmentally friendly equipment operating on our nation’s highways.”

As Spear left the stage in the San Diego Convention Center, loudspeakers blared Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”

Court rules against Rhode Island’s truck-only toll program

ATA’s Spear calls for vaccine exemption for trucking

Congress approves $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill

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