Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My neck size? Excuse me?

Over the past few days, Land Line Now on Sirius XM radio has been reporting on the fatigue driving evaluation checklist, a tool used by patrol officers in two states to determine whether truckers are “fatigued.” The special series is written and voiced by Host Mark Reddig. And it’s created quite a stir.

The fatigue questionnaire is in use by Minnesota and Indiana state police, and in both states it’s voluntary.

The list was created by Captain Ken Urquhart, a District Commander with the State Police with the Commercial Enforcement Division.

It wants to know details like what is your neck size, do you have a TV, cell phone, computer inside the sleeper, and so on. Is there a pet in the truck? Is there a full wastebasket? Do you have reading material? Empty soda cans present? Do you have dental problems?

Urquhart has been part of Commercial Enforcement since 1997, roughly 12 years. Mark says in the interest of fairness, he wanted to give Urquhart the chance to respond to some of the concerns others had raised about the checklist, and about the process that checklist is part of.

So Mark called the captain for a talk. I had the opportunity to preview the interviews Mark did for the show. The last one I did as I ate lunch at my desk, and twice nearly choked on a French fry. Aside from the checklist being ridiculous in its assumptions, truckers often are unaware that they’re going through an interview process that can result in an OOS tag or big fine.

I’m simply speechless.

So part three airs Wednesday night. Meanwhile, OOIDA continues to get calls from truckers who say they are not fatigued, and who do have hours on their logbook to drive, but who are being put out of service for getting too many checkmarks on the list and the process that goes with it.

Tomorrow, Mark says Land Line Now will wrap up the series on the fatigued driving checklist – which also is being used in Indiana – with a look at consequences. And he tells me he will look at the case of another trucker who had a permissible medical condition that ended up being used against him by an officer using the checklist.

If you have satellite radio, you just can’t miss this one. That’s Sirius Channel 147 and XM 171, 7-8 p.m. and 11 p.m.-12 a.m. EST.

You’ll be speechless, too. Or maybe not.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ad valorem: Latin for ‘in proportion to value’

Can we get a little “Tax Man” Beatles music here?

Three states use a tax to bilk bucks out of trucking companies large and small for running miles in their state. It’s called an ad valorem tax, and it’s a property tax used by Kansas, Arkansas and Kentucky.

What a boneheaded “property” tax. It doesn’t matter if you don’t own property in any of these states. If you have registered a vehicle through the apportioned registration in these states, that’s what matters.

You say, “Wait a minute, I registered in Georgia.” Well, through that registration, you have listed these states on your application. Therefore, you’ve registered your vehicle in these states. And they want you to pay for miles run inside their borders. You don’t even have to do any business or buy any fuel or even stop to pee in these states, but if you drive through, they’ve got you.

If you roll through those states in your truck you will be assessed the ad valorem tax, based on miles you ran through the state in the previous year. They use the depreciated value of your equipment – even your leased equipment – and a percentage of jurisdictional miles from your total fleet miles to determine what the tax is going to be.

A question I hear a lot here at OOIDA is: Why should truckers pay an ad valorem tax to those states? Don’t truckers already pay to run the interstate system?

The answer of course is, yes, trucks already pay plenty to run through these states. Small-business truckers pay through UCR, the IRP, and the IFTA. So the crazy question remains, why do they have to pay to roll through these three states? You are not doing business, not delivering, not picking up. The crazy answer is that you’ve registered your vehicle in this state, and you’ve traveled miles there.

The assessment forms come out in January and February and are due back by the end of March. Look for the actual bill in November.

Even if you ran zero miles in one or more of these three states, no matter, the state will still find your name through the state registration system and send the assessment (they call it a rendition).

And if you ran zero miles there, don’t just think you can drop the assessment in File 13. You must put “zero” and send the form back to the state or, bam, you get billed for the maximum that state’s legislation allows.

Kansas will promptly tag you for $100. If they have reason to believe you have five trucks, it’s $500 bucks. When you get that bill, you have 15 days to protest. Kansas will reevaluate at that point and send you a new bill.

Kentucky no longer sends out an assessment or a bill, but has added a tax on the IRP registration. So it will hit you with the ad valorem tax at time of registration.

Why has no one succeeded in getting this killed via the court system? The reason is probably that when taxes are based on miles traveled in a state, it’s not as clear that they are discriminatory.

Can’t OOIDA make some kind of legal challenge?

That’s not on OOIDA’s radar screen right now. The Association has looked at it in the past, and the opportunity to win was not clear. OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston told me about a year ago that does not mean the Association won’t look at it again in the future. If the fee becomes excessive and more states find this a great idea, he told me, revisiting the idea of a legal action is not totally out of the question.