Friday, February 25, 2011

Not on the guest list? Send ’em a card

Even with a voice in DC through OOIDA’s government affairs office, professional truck drivers are still facing an uphill battle when it comes to an estimated $460 billion transportation bill that will be drafted and divvied up on Capitol Hill.

Congressional committees are drafting such a bill as we speak.

By creed and work ethic, truckers as a group are not out there seeking handouts as other transportation groups might be. At the same time, truckers do not want to get their pockets picked.

Many OOIDA members call or write to us to share their viewpoints or ask questions about laws, funding and regulations, and we always tell them they have a voice by contacting their lawmakers. A united voice gets more accomplished, and it’s more important than ever for professional truck drivers to be members of OOIDA.

When we heard that the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. John Mica, R-FL, was conducting a series of public hearings to gather input and drum up support for a comprehensive transportation bill, I wondered what role truckers would play in the discussion.

It didn’t take long after reading the lists of guest speakers at the hearings before I realized that truckers were not among them. Most of the discussion fell to local transportation leaders, business groups, chambers of commerce, rail and transit folks, and others that stand to gain more than they could possibly pay in to a new transportation plan.

“It looks to me that these things are being done largely underneath the radar,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said Thursday, Feb. 24. “Virtually no one other than a select few are aware that they’re going on.”

Truckers did attend some hearings and hopefully they got a chance to speak.

The reality is that many lawmakers view trucking as a cash cow that helps subsidize other programs. Just look at the disproportionate amount that truckers pay in to the Highway Trust Fund compared to other highway users. Then look at how much actually gets spent on roads and bridges that the Highway Trust Fund is supposed to support.

Truckers deserve to get something out of this bill, and it’s important for trucking as a whole to stand united. On many issues, professional drivers are up against corporate interests and big money, but there are victories to be had. We can’t afford to give up or let up on certain issues.

So what can you do? For starters, memorize the Capitol Switchboard number. It’s 202-224-3121. Be courteous but firm in your positions on the issues, whether it’s truck parking, infrastructure improvements, safety, speed limiters, EOBRs, toll roads, cross-border trucking, you name it. These things could all be part of the next transportation bill being drafted right now.

As far as the hearings go, the series did seem like a big dog and pony show largely based in the home districts of T&I Committee members, but these hearings were not a waste. Hopefully, the hearings opened some eyes to the mountain of work that needs to be accomplished before a transportation bill makes its way into law. Until the president’s signature is on the bottom line, you have a voice.