Driving With Tax Freedom

Tax Freedom Day

How sad is it that we have to work nearly 1/3 of the year just to fund the government?  And, this year the date of April 18 is 5 days later than it was last year.  Things don’t look better for next year either, especially with Obama Care fully kicking in.

I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Elizabeth Malm, Economist with the Center for State Tax Policy at the Tax Foundation on my local radio program about Tax Freedom Day and what it really means. Listen by Clicking Here.

Nonetheless, Tax Freedom Day has come and gone, so as you drive down the road the remainder of this year you can now rest easy because you are finally driving for yourself and not the government.

Marijuana Legal – Not for Drivers!

USDOT Reminds Drivers Marijuana is Still Illegal

It’s my hope that professional truck drivers really did not need a reminder that marijuana use is not permitted, but with Colorado and Washington voters making recreational use legal it was probably a good idea for the US Department of Transportation to remind drivers of just that.

So, because the November 2012 elections not only elected a President of the United States but also legalized recreational use of marijuana in two states the US DOT issued a clarifying statement about marijuana.

In that statement, issued January 24, 2013, the US DOT says, “We want to make it perfectly clear that the state initiatives will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program.”  In other words, marijuana – recreational or medical use – remains illegal.  The drug is still illegal on the federal level after all.

Read the text of the full notice here.

While Colorado and Washington were the first two states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, despite the fact that the drug is still illegal at the federal level, other states and local governments are likely to follow suit.  This could be the beginning of a change in how the nation views marijuana, or it could be setting up quite the battle between governments (hang on to your hat federalism).

Regardless, truck drivers should make certain they understand the implications the new laws.

Learn more about FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Programs by clicking here.

2012 Election – Now What

By Michael Howe

The 2012 election is over, the results – for the most part – are in, so now the question becomes “what does this all mean for the trucking industry?”

The one thing we knew for certain prior to the results being announced was that we would have a new Secretary of Transportation.  Current Secretary Ray LaHood had already made his intentions clear that he plans to step down at the end of President Obama’s first term.  When that will happen exactly is somewhat unclear, but certainly within the first few months 2013.  Will policies change much at the DOT?  Probably not.  There will continue to be an emphasis on stronger safety regulations for the trucking industry, concerns about infrastructure and more.  What will matter with the new Secretary is the level of emphasis placed on each area.

With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) I would be surprised if current Administrator Ferro did not continue in that role for at least another year or two, unless the President decides to elevate her to Secretary (which I also doubt).  Under Ferro’s Administration the FMCSA has not been shy about shutting down high risk truck and bus companies.  In addition, FMCSA continues to work on EOBR mandates, Distracted Driving regulations, and of course the cross border program.  They also continue to research the Hours of Service regulations.

Outside of the bureaucracy, President Obama’s economic and tax policies create some concern for trucking companies.  This goes back to the old adage of the only thing you can count on are death and taxes.  Well, it’s the taxes part – specifically increasing taxes – that are most worrisome to the trucking industry.

In a second term Presidents don’t have to worry about re-election, so there is a tendency early in the term to be a little more aggressive.  The first 2-3 years might be the time when President Obama makes a big move on climate change issues.  Any such legislation from Congress or regulation from the EPA such as a carbon tax, stricter emissions regulations, or other climate related regulations would undoubtedly result in increased cost pressures on the trucking industry.

Fuel prices will continue to be a concern, though they would be a concern with whoever was in office.  The real issue here is what is our nation’s energy policy?  The Keystone Pipeline likely won’t easily become a reality – ok, it likely won’t become a reality at all.  You can also expect the administration to look more at fracking and perhaps work to impose regulations on that.  We’re not going to see a significant increase in domestic drilling and offshore drilling permits, so the largely unnecessary dependence on foreign oil will continue.  Expect prices to continue rising, fluctuating for seasonal demands, but rising overall.

Congress really didn’t change much either.

In the US Senate the Democrats were able to pick up 2 seats, though they are still far shy of the 60 seats needed to stop a filibuster.  This is interesting because with a filibuster the Republicans will still be able to prevent legislation of force a compromise.   Something to watch, however, will be an early attempt by Democrats to force a vote on limiting filibusters.

In the US House, Republicans retained control.  Rep. John Mica, Chair of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee (and friend of trucking) was re-elected, as was another friend of trucking Rep. Tom Graves.  Obviously there are other “friends of trucking,” but these are just two who I found to be of interest based on my interviews with them.

So, the end result – not much has changedWe have the same people in charge that were in charge before the election.  This is the same group of leaders that negotiated themselves into the corner that is the looming “fiscal cliff.”  This is the same group of leaders that has been largely unable to pass any meaningful long term highway bill (and no, the recent one was not long term in my opinion). 

Major issues facing the trucking industry in the next 6-12 months:

  • Fiscal Cliff
  • Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs)
  • Hours of Service (possibly)
  • Cross Border Trucking with Mexico
  • Who is the new Secretary of Transportation?
  • New Environmental Regulations
  • Additional Distracted Driving Regulations
  • Tax increases?
  • Infrastructure Funding
  • Fuel Prices / Energy Policy

And how will the trucking industry fare with any or all of those issues?

With Congress we have and will continue to have gridlock.

With the President, we have an administration not afraid to impose costly regulations on the trucking industry, and because Congress is in a perpetual state of gridlock there is little hope they can effectively legislate a way out of the costly regulations.  With the President, we have an administration not afraid to propose tax increases, and because Congress is in a perpetual state of gridlock they are almost always in a situation where a forced “compromise” is necessary to get anything done, thus opening the door for less than industry friendly proposals.

In essence, buckle up…….we may need to steer around a pot hole or two.

Related articles of interest:
Rough Road Ahead (Fiscal Cliff), Challenge Magazine October 2012
FMCSA’s Safety Resolve, Challenge Magazine November 2012
Talking Safety with Anne Ferro, Challenge Magazine June 2012
A Conversation with Ray LaHood, Challenge Magazine March 2012

LaHood: Kudos To China

A few days prior to America’s Independence Day (July 4), DOT Secretary Ray LaHood offered a brief interview with “The Cable,” as reported by Josh Rogin.  In that interview, LaHood said, “The Chinese are more successful (in building infrastructure) because in their country, only three people make the decision….. ….In a country where only three people make the decision, they can decide where to put their rail line, get the money, and do it. We don’t do it that way in America.”

To be fair, LaHood did also say that the US has the best system of government because people have a say in decisions.  Yet, his frustration with the US system apparently had him thinking of how things could be….

LaHood’s frustration level is a direct result of his and President Obama’s inability to work with Republicans.  In the same interview, LaHood said, “Two years ago, between 50 to 60 Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives to come to Washington to do nothing, and that’s what they’ve done and they’ve stopped any progress. Those people don’t have any vision about what the government can do. That’s been a real inhibitor in our ability to think outside the box and think big.”

Do these statements bother anyone else?  They sure do bother me.

Remember, for the first two years of the Obama Administration the President’s party controlled both the White House and the Congress.  As US Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reminded everyone on July 6, “…..with significant majorities in both the House and Senate, and (Obama) failed to enact transportation legislation. On June 17, 2009, the Obama Administration intervened and stopped in its tracks a six-year transportation proposal and opted for an 18-month extension of the expiring law.”

And, is China really the country we want to hold up as the shining example of success?  Consider these facts:

Reuters reported on July 18, 2012, that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is concerned about its economy. He said, “”Currently and in the future, China’s employment situation will become more complex and more severe. The task of promoting full employment will be very heavy and we must make greater efforts to achieve it.”

According to Amnesty International, about 500,000 people are being detained in China without being charged with a crime and no trial set.  “Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, and censorship of the Internet and other media has grown. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, and of Falun Gong practitioners and Christians who practice their religion outside state-sanctioned churches continues.”

Learn more about China’s abuses from Amnesty International.

Information on Labor in China from China Labor Watch suggests that wages are low, hours are long, working conditions are poor, and discrimination and abuse are prevalent.

So, yes Mr. LaHood, one way to address your inability to get the job done is to emulate the Chinese system.  Yes, Mr. LaHood, President Obama’s leadership has been ineffective, even when his party controlled the Congress, but if he was the leader of China he might have more success. 

Personally, I found your statements, just a few days prior to Independence Day, to be appalling, misguided, off base, and very telling.  I prefer to continue flying the American Flag!

Obama: You Need The Government

It was at a campaign even last Friday (July 13) that President Obama let his true feelings about small business be known.  In his speech, Obama said, “If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.”  “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

If you are an owner operator or small fleet / large fleet owner, stop right here and think about that – according to the President, it is NOT your hard work, money, and initiative that made your business possible, it’s the government.  WOW!

Many of you have already heard the comments, and there are some out there that defend the President suggesting he was simply saying that it’s because of government programs that individual imitative leads to success.  Well, I take issue with that.  Government only exists because of the personal initiative of our Founding Fathers.  It’s the taxes government collects from those who are successful that allows government to exist.

For trucking, not that he was addressing trucking specifically, Obama said, “Somebody invested in roads and bridges.”  Does he forget that it’s the fuel taxes, tolls, license fees, and other taxes from individuals and corporations that pay for those roads and bridges?

Interestingly, on July 11, FMCSA Deputy Administrator William Bronrott testified before the House Committee on Small Business.  In his remarks, Bronrott comments on how the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program is impacting small business.  He commented on how cognizant the Administration is of needing to minimize the impact on small businesses – but why does he care, if as Obama suggests, government is the source of all things good?

Whether it’s the large trucking carriers like JB Hunt, Swift, or others that were started by individuals, or the many small fleets and owner operators (FMCSA’s database indicates 85% of registered carriers have 5 or fewer units), Obama wants you to send him a thank you letter and more money to fund the government. 

From my perspective, it’s time for this administration to move out so we can get new leaders who value the American way of life, which includes recognizing the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit that helped found this country.  It’s NOT the government that founded the entrepreneurial spirit.

Hoffa Talks Trucking

James P. Hoffa
By Michael Howe

Note: This feature was originally written for one of the trucking industry publications I write for, but due to unforseen timing issues it is not able to be printed as planned. So, I share it here.

James Hoffa – Teamsters President

“President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march….Everybody here’s got a vote…Let’s take these sons of bitches out and give American back to an America where we belong.”  That was how James Hoffa concluded his speech at a rally for President Obama in Michigan on Labor Day 2011.  It was in that speech where he was speaking of the battle, the war on workers, the challenges of the economy, and he called out the Tea Party for many of the challenges facing America.

With a dynamic personality and an instantly recognizable name, James Hoffa invokes an instant reaction from anyone that hears him or hears of him.  He is both unifying and polarizing.   And, whether you love him or hate him, his voice is one that matters because he has significant influence on policies that impact many industries.  As the leader of approximately 1.4 million current Teamsters, 500,000 retirees, and 1900 Teamster affiliates throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, James Hoffa is someone to watch.

As the son of James R. Hoffa, James P. Hoffa grew up on the picket lines and in union meetings.  When he turned 18 he received his own union card and was sworn in by his father.  His Teamster career began in the 1960’s when he was a Teamster laborer in Detroit and Alaska where he loaded and unloaded freight from ships, drove trucks and buses, and operated heavy equipment.  From there, he served as a Teamster attorney from 1968-1993 where he represented members in workers compensation cases, Social Security, and personal legal matters.  He also represented Teamster joint councils and local unions.

Moving up the organization, Hoffa served as the Administrative Assistant to the President of Michigan Joint Council 43 from 1993-1998.  He was first elected General President of the Teamsters in 1999 and has served in that position ever since, and was in fact re-elected in 2011.

In any discussion with the General President of the Teamsters (www.teamsters.org) it is difficult not to ask the general question about the state of the labor movement and what the future holds for the labor movement.  One thing is for certain from this discussion with Hoffa – he feels it is strong, but threatened.  “The labor movement and working families have been under a constant and calculated attack from the radical far-right forces and big business – but as everyone has seen this past year, we aren’t going to be pushed around,” says Hoffa.

Referencing legislation in Ohio that was designed to remove collective bargaining rights from public employees, Hoffa speaks of victory for labor.  “We fought back and won in Ohio,” says Hoffa.  He also speaks of victory other areas, especially when working against “right to work” legislation.  “So-called “right to work” legislation was filed in 13 states this year, and labor fought back and defeated every attempt,” says Hoffa.

Like those in the Occupy Movements, Hoffa sees this as a battle between the haves and the have not’s.  For him, it’s a battle against the top 1 percent.  “The “1 percenters” in this country think that they can keep getting rich on the backs of the average American. They have an agenda, but the labor movement isn’t going stand by and watch every gain we have bled and died for be taken away,” says Hoffa.  “If anything, these attacks on working families have galvanized our movement.”  He says that is what the country saw in 2011 with protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, and that it’s also what the nation  is seeing with the Occupy Wall Street protests across the country.

Hoffa’s schedule is busy and his plate of issues is full.  But, throughout his Teamster career he has never lost sight of his roots or his appreciation for the workers on the front line.  It’s only natural then that he hold a great deal of respect for the American truck driver and the work they do.  “American truck drivers are the hardest working people in this country,” says Hoffa. “We have thousands of members that get behind a wheel for a living.”

Hoffa is also cognizant of the professionalism required to drive a truck, and wishes more people would take time to thank truckers for the work they do.  “These men and women are skilled workers who are held to stringent safety and health regulations. Most people don’t realize that everything they buy gets to where it’s going thanks to American truckers,” says Hoffa.

Issues facing the trucking industry are frequently the same issues Hoffa and the Teamsters are working on.  Anyone who has followed the Cross Border Program with Mexico or has read my “Driving Through DC” columns in Challenge Magazine knows that Hoffa and the Teamsters are staunch opponents of this program and continue to fight it.  “Our union has been fighting this same battle for 16 years and there is one thing that has remained true that entire time – Mexican trucks are not safe,” says Hoffa. “They do not meet U.S. safety standards.”        On this specific issue, Hoffa sees more issues than just the safety as trucks as a problem though.  In addition to safety issues he is quick to cite the drug war in Mexico and the current economic situation in the US.  Similar to past “Driving Through DC” columns, Hoffa sees the need to protect American jobs as a priority.  “And here in the United States, we have an unemployment rate of around 9 percent. It makes no sense with regard to safety, security and keeping good-paying jobs here at home,” says Hoffa.

Click Here (HoffaMexTrksto Listen to Mike talk to Mr. Hoffa about Mexican Trucking on his local radio program, “In The Booth” on KONP radio in Port Angeles, WA. www.michaelhoweshow.com

Hoffa also points out that there is a lack of support for the program in Congress, where in the past Congress has voted overwhelmingly to shut down this program and legislation has been filed to do it again. “The American people do not support opening our border to unsafe trucks from Mexico,” says Hoffa.

Interestingly, Hoffa has found many allies on this issue that are often on the opposite side of other issues, and he finds this appealing.  “This is not about red or blue – this is about American jobs and safety. I was just down at the border in Otay Mesa, California, in October to protest the cross-border pilot program. I was joined by hundreds of Teamsters from across the West, Todd Spencer from the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA). We all agree – the border must stay closed to Mexican carriers.”
This non-partisan issue does not mean, however, that Hoffa won’t take a political stand.  In fact, he makes it very clear that he wants President Obama to be re-elected.  In fact, it was his 2011 Labor Day speech that really set the tone for the 2012 election.  Hoffa says it is crucial that President Obama be re-elected.  “There’s no other way to describe it. The war on workers will only gain momentum if there is an anti-worker Republican in the White House,” says Hoffa.  “President Obama is a friend to organized labor and the middle class, and I expect that labor will turn out to support his run for re-election.”

Just to be clear, Hoffa has never backed away from the comments he made in his Labor Day speech, despite some suggesting he should.  He continues to stand by his comments.  What is most interesting is that he is a supporter of President Obama’s re-election bid, yet he is also not afraid to criticize certain policies – like the cross border program reinstated under Obama’s leadership.

Throughout Hoffa’s travels and meetings he is constantly presented with issues the American worker is facing.  Given this is one of the most difficult economic periods in US history, his perspective and the perspectives of those he meets with is worth noting – especially in this election year.

“As part of my job, I constantly travel to speak with our members across this great country. Many of them are concerned about the direction this country is taking. Working Americans are under attack at every turn while the rich get richer on the backs of the middle class,” says Hoffa.  This is a sentiment popular among the workers and the Occupy movements.  How it might impact the 2012 elections will be interesting to watch, but there are definite concerns among the public.

“They are afraid that their children will grow up in an America without opportunity. One without good jobs that pay a fair wage and benefits that will allow them to provide for their children,” says Hoffa. “They worry that their children won’t have a real shot at the American Dream.”

It’s that American Dream that we all pursue.  Even as the economy struggles the pursuit of that dream is still important and relevant.  For many truckers, the dream is of owning and operating their own truck, and then perhaps expanding a little – essentially developing a small fleet.  Hoffa appreciates this dream, but also believes the larger companies need to do more to help drivers succeed and achieve the dream.

To the carriers, Hoffa offers some advice.  “Treat your drivers as you would want to be treated. Pay them a livable wage and provide affordable benefits and you will have drivers that will stay with your company,” says Hoffa.  “Experience and loyalty are keys to providing a dependable, quality service.”

He isn’t speaking from just emotion either.  Hoffa cites an example of how one company has succeeded, even in these challenging economic times.  “UPS is a great example of what can happen when you have an experienced and efficient workforce. We have 240,000 workers at UPS and they have a strong contract that helps them provide for their families,” says Hoffa. “Detractors will say that a unionized workforce hurts your bottom line. Tell that to UPS. They have had a phenomenal year so far, and project as much as a 48 percent jump in profits over last year.”

Hoffa acknowledges that times are tough and many are struggling to make ends meet.  He does see some cause to be optimistic though and offers some parting comments to truckers everywhere.  “Don’t lose faith. We are going through a rough patch right now, but if we just stand together and keep our eyes on the road and our foot on the gas, we’ll get through it and win back our country,” says Hoffa.

Election Year Politics

From the “Driving Through DC” Challenge Magazine February 2012 column:

“An election year often results in no major policy changes and a lot of grandstanding. The long-term highway bill expires in March, and Congress did not finish it prior to the end of 2011. I wrote about this in November, but if Congress and the president could not pass a long-term bill prior to an election year, how do you think they will do during an election year?”

Read the entire article by clicking here.