The Voice of a NATSA Member is Heard

Vehicle Mileage Tax

The Voice of a NATSA Member is Heard

Many members of NATSA are also members of their local trucking association. Jackie Polk, President of Lee TranServices based in Lufkin TX, is very involved with both NATSA and her local trucking association. As a NATSA member, she of events/legislation taking place in TX, but also in other jurisdictions as well. She and the members of the Texas Trucking Association (TXTA) keep an eye out for bills that are being introduced that will impact their industry.

In this case, couple of bills captured the focus of TXTA. The association members actively monitor what’s happening in the legislature and lobby to share the concerns and effects those bills will have on the industry.

Recently, TXTA reached out to Jackie for her comments on one particular bill that the House Transportation Committee Chairman sponsored and published proposing a VMT tax (vehicle mileage tax) for commercial motor vehicles. Of course, TXTA is not in favor of this and asked if Jackie could take a look and share her thoughts. They asked what concerns come to mind from her perspective as a transportation compliance specialist.

Here is some background information on how this began…

TXTA had been actively monitoring the VMT situation. They put together a call with the membership to talk about this bill, what was happening, and brainstorm on what they wanted to do. Jackie and her team were invited to the call.

Jackie and her team compiled a list of considerations from the perspective of a compliance and risk management service perspective…which may vary from that of a trucking company. Her initial thoughts were that if every state or jurisdiction independently creates their own VMT, it can become very complicated. While this might be a benefit to Jackie and her agency, it is not the right thing for the industry. So, Jackie helped compile a lot of talking points around this issue.

In Texas, as with many states, when a committee is going to hear a bill, the person sponsoring the bill gets an opportunity to speak to the committee, explain the purpose of the bill, why they put it forward, and why they are asking for a positive vote. At that same time, the session is open to the public to attend, listen and offer testimony in support or opposition. You can also go online and indicate your opposition or support for a bill.

TXTA contacted Jackie and asked if she’d be willing to come to Austin and testify. Jackie was glad to be involved and accepted the invitation.

So, on the appointed day and time, Jackie went with a group (trucking association and other leadership figures in the industry, including trucking company owners) to Austin.

This was Jackie’s first time ever testifying. She prepared well, writing out her testimony and trying to reduce it to the allowed time limit, which in this case was specified to be 2-3 minutes. After writing her testimony, Jackie was at 6 minutes. She did make some further refinements and committed her testimony to paper, which she was able to turn into the clerk at the hearing.

In Texas, legislators only come into session every 2 years. So, it is a very busy time of year. There were a lot of bills to be reviewed, many in attendance, and quite a few testimonies to hear. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have a transportation committee. Jackie knew that Representative Canales (chairman of the transportation committee in the house) was putting this bill forward. She also knew the transportation committee chairman from the Senate, Senator Nichols, who happens to be from her area, was also supporting this bill.

This was a bill to create a pilot program to study the ability to replace the fuel tax currently being collected with a vehicle mileage tax. On the positive side, it was intended to replace a tax, not add a tax. Unfortunately, it only targeted commercial motor vehicles.

Last time the transportation committee met, they created a feasibility study; this time they are proposing a pilot program. The next step will be to implement the VMT. With each step they get closer to the new replacement tax.

On the day Jackie went to Austin for her testimony, there were 16 bills on the docket. The place was packed. The session started at 10 am. The transportation committee came into session at 12:30. You are required to go in advance, provide your name, where you are from, your position on the bill and if you plan to testify. The chairman decides the order that the bills will be presented. The VMT bill was the last to be heard that day. So, they had to be there and available all day in order to testify.

In fact, Jackie arrived early that morning to collaborate with the testimonies of other members of the Texas Trucking Association. The hearing committee does not tolerate repetitive information, so it was important ensure each testimony focused on unique points. Jackie was the only one there from an agency and brought a completely different perspective with her testimony.

Finally, the time came for the bill to be reviewed. Rep. Canales gave his overview of what it was for, his acknowledgement that they have a significant shortage of funds to support their infrastructure, and this support is necessary to take care of our roads. So, what better way to do it … to start collecting tax from everyone. Even though this bill only targets commercial motor vehicles, they could just pass the costs along to consumers at some point.

So, Jackie presented her case in opposition to the bill. She read from her prepared written testimony so she would get through it as quickly and concisely as possible. A couple minutes in, it was announced that her time was up, and she was not done. It was asked “Does anyone have any questions for this witness?” Representative Ashby had gotten up to leave just before Jackie took the stand. When he heard her name, he turned around and stayed as he knew Jackie was from his district.

Rep. Ashby acknowledged Jackie. “Miss Polk…I know Jackie Polk. Thank you for driving to Austin today. If you have more prepared, then I would like you to go ahead and finish.” Rep. Canales agreed and Jackie was able to complete her entire testimony and hand in the written version to the court clerk.

It was a great experience. It was a long day, but time well spent and very informative and interesting.

Since then, Rep. Canales has substituted the bill with entirely new language. He is still suggesting they move forward with the pilot, but it now includes all vehicle classes. So, it will not just apply to commercial vehicles. It now addresses enforcement and evasion issues AND, most importantly, at least 3 people serving on the task force must come from the trucking industry. The final point is a big win as now the industry feels there will be fair representation.

The bill has not passed yet, but due to the hard work of the TXTA, Jackie’s testimony, and others, the bill is now much more favorable to industry. Jackie was thrilled and gratified to play a part in this win.

Jackie felt that her unique perspective allowed her to educate them on why there is already a system in place that can capture this information and talk to them about preparation and learning from other jurisdictions. There are other states that already have a VMT in place and they look for ways to simplify it. Talking to other jurisdictions may save time and money in implementing a VMT to address the concern over efficient vehicles paying less fuel tax and not equitably contributing to infrastructure costs. She encouraged them to consider other ways to increase funding, not strictly from a vehicle mileage tax and not just isolating commercial motor vehicles with that tax.

This event provides an excellent example of what NATSA brings to the industry and why Jackie is a strong advocate of NATSA membership. NATSA brings like minds together; it allows us to work together to stay aware of issues that are happening. As individuals, it is nearly impossible to stay on top of everything that happens in every jurisdiction, but as an organization, NATSA members can help keep each other informed. We help each other to navigate these issues, increase awareness, and get out there when we can be a local presence and get in front of legislative committees and state our concerns.

NATSA members together represent a huge number of trucking companies and companies that operate commercial vehicles. Thousands of companies and millions of vehicles. NATSA professionals impact a LOT of entities.

If you have any questions about what Jackie has accomplished for her customers and for her local trucking association, feel free to reach out to her.

And most importantly, if you are involved in any legislative issues, big or small, NATSA is a great place for assistance, collaboration, and a bigger voice. Share what you have done for all members to learn and for the association to showcase the impact NATSA has on the industry.

At NATSA, we are all about helping one another. Jackie’s testimony (available in the Members Only area of the website) illustrates NATSA’s impact on the transportation industry. Not just at the IFTA and IRP meetings, not just at the NATSA conference, not just benefiting ourselves in what we do at our individual companies, but how we are involved with government as it impacts the industry as a whole and how we, as NATSA, are working to make a difference for everyone who is part of our industry.

Being part of NATSA can give you a voice in that effort. As a NATSA member, you do not stand alone but rather you are part of a large collective that together makes a difference in your world. Being a part of NATSA gave Jackie the opportunity to speak and have her voice heard. Her experience can now bring that opportunity to everyone else that is part of NATSA. Learn from what Jackie has done, leverage what she has done, and use this as a learning opportunity to benefit your jurisdiction.

This is a great example of EDUCATE, COLLABORATE, ADVOCATE!!!

North American Transportation Services Association (NATSA)