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Michigan gas tax hike stalled; governor says fixing roads still No. 1 issue

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Michigan governor proposes new way to divvy up money for roadwork
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan roads are the worst in the country and are "downright dangerous." (The Trucker file photo)

LANSING, Mich. — With her proposed 45-cents-a-gallon fuel tax hike stalled, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that fixing the roads is still the “No. 1 issue” despite the Republican-led Legislature prioritizing an overhaul of Michigan’s car insurance law.

“People want our roads fixed. That is the No. 1 issue, and there is crickets at the Capitol right now on that front,” she said after speaking at an infrastructure summit in Lansing. “I put out a real plan to solve it, and that’s what I want to spend my energy focusing on.”

The House and Senate last week approved different bills that would cut the highest auto premiums in the country by letting people opt out of mandatory unlimited medical coverage for crash injuries. Whitmer, who vowed to veto the legislation due to “a lot of shortcomings,” said “there might be a path forward, but it’s too early to tell.”

She made clear, however, that her priority is raising $2.5 billion in tax revenue for roads, as part of a budget plan to also free up money for education by stopping financial “shell games” that have been used to patch potholes.

“Our roads are the worst in the country. They’re downright dangerous. They’re hurting our ability to maintain our edge in the mobility sector and lure investment in the state of Michigan,” said Whitmer, who has been traveling the state to sell her first budget plan.

Her desire to address deteriorating road conditions and GOP legislative leaders’ prioritization of car insurance changes has sparked speculation that they could strike a broader deal — raising gasoline taxes and reducing auto premiums.

Whitmer stopped short of linking the issues, though, saying the budget should be done before lawmakers break for the summer so K-12 districts can set their spending for the next school year.

“These guys have got to get off the dime and get moving on actually fixing the damn roads in the state of Michigan,” she said.

While Republicans are not ruling out a more modest tax increase to boost road construction, they have not outlined a major alternative in the two months since Whitmer proposed the unpopular 45-cent gas tax hike. A plan up for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday would increase road spending by $132 million — well short of what business groups and others say is needed — by accelerating the shift of income tax revenue under 2015 transportation-funding laws.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Levering Republican, does not seem interested in linking road funding with car insurance.

“I’m not sure why I would negotiate one for the other,” he said last week. “I can certainly have two conversations at one time, but I will not trade good policy for bad.”

The House GOP is having ongoing conversations about road funding and how to “deliver the right plan, not the most simple plan,” Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Tuesday.

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake, pointed to the Senate’s plans to more quickly transfer general funds to roads and then outline a larger proposal in the summer.

“We’re also focused on delivering cheaper car insurance options and look forward to working with the governor,” she said.

With Whitmer promising to not sign a spending plan unless the road-funding issue is resolved, budget talks appear likely to stretch over the summer months and potentially into the fall. The fiscal year starts October 1.

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The Nation

House endorses adopting California AB5 provisions at federal level

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U.s. house of representatives passes pro act; endorses adopting california ab5 law at federal level
Owner-operators and carriers are weary of California's AB5 morphing into federal law. Introduced as the PRO Act, the proposed legislation will have far-reaching impacts on all sectors of the trucking industry.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation similar to California’s AB5 law in that it requires employers to prove that independent contractors used in conducting business should not be classified as employees. The controversial California law, as applied to the trucking industry, is currently under an injunction imposed by a U.S. District Court judge that prohibits its enforcement. California-based carriers, the California Trucking Association (CTA) and owner-operators doing business in the state, as well as trucking organizations on national and state levels, have all publicly opposed AB5. The Trucker previously reported that industry leaders feared a law like AB5 would spread beyond California’s borders. With Congress considering the “Protecting the Right to Organize” (PRO) Act (HR 2474), those fears appear credible.

As widely discussed in trucking-industry circles, AB5 places the burden upon employers when classifying workers as employees or independent contractors. If a worker’s circumstances do not pass all components of a three-prong test, the individual is deemed an employee, a classification impacting company operations and the individual’s ability to choose working status. For this reason, many owner-operators who entered the business for its self-employment opportunities oppose AB5.

The federal PRO legislation incorporates the same tests imposed under AB5 and applies them nationwide. CTA contends that AB5 is prohibited under federal law, an argument with which the judge ruling in favor of the request for an injunction was noted as appearing to agree. With the injunction in place, the PRO Act could be considered a case of amending federal law for the purpose of allowing a state law to be enforceable.

The language in the federal act as included in Section 2(a)(2) defines an employee under the same terms as discussed in AB5. As with the California law, the sticking point relates to the (B) prong of the test. Under the (B) prong, a company cannot hire an independent contractor to perform tasks, inherent to the company’s business, which other employees already perform. A carrier in the business of moving freight and employing individuals who move freight could not hire an independent contractor to perform similar tasks.

Should PRO receive U.S. Senate approval, something political pundits doubt is possible, it would be passed to President Donald Trump to either sign into law or veto. Of the two, a veto seems most likely, as the administration has stated PRO “appears to cut and paste the core provisions of California’s controversial AB5, which severely restricts self-employment. AB5 is actively threatening the existence of both the franchise business sector and the gig economy in California. It would be a serious mistake for Congress to impose this flawed job-killing policy on the entire country.”

Truckers nationwide should remain in tune with further action on PRO. It may impact many careers.

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The Nation

OKC police confirm security guard who shot truck driver at TA has died by suicide

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police lights stock photo
A security guard who discharged his weapon, shooting a truck driver during an altercation at an Oklahoma City TA Travel Center, has taken his own life.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A security guard who shot a truck driver earlier this month during an altercation with a truck driver in Oklahoma City has died by suicide.

Sgt. Brad Gilmore, assistant public-information officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department, confirmed that 45-year-old George Bischoff went to a local shooting range, Big Boys Guns, Ammo & Range, on Feb. 20 around 1:35 p.m. and took his own life with a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Bischoff had been questioned twice regarding an altercation that took place Feb. 14 around 4:30 a.m. in which he confronted a truck driver, 42-year-old Paul Sisk, at a TA Travel Center in Oklahoma City regarding a reserved parking space.

“Somewhere during that altercation, it became physical and the security guard fired one shot, hitting the truck driver,” Gilmore said. “The truck driver was transported to a local hospital, where he was treated and has since been released.”

Gilmore said the security guard was initially questioned following the incident but at that time, Gilmore said, police had not yet had a chance to talk to the truck driver.

“The security guard was brought back in and questioned again, and we were in the process of discussing the case with the district attorney’s office; and on our end, charges had not been filed,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore could not confirm whether the gun used at the range was rented or owned by Bischoff, but he said local news outlets have reported that the gun was rented.  Gilmore said the incident remains under investigation.

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The Nation

Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse identifies nearly 8,000 substance-abuse violations

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Fmcsa’s drug and alcohol clearinghouse identifies nearly 8,000 substance-abuse violations in first weeks of operation
FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse program is designed to improve road safety by identifying drivers who are barred from driving commercial vehicles due to drug violations. (iStock photo)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released data on Feb. 21 following the first weeks of operation of its Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The information released showed the clearinghouse has detected and identified nearly 8,000 positive substance-abuse tests of commercial drivers since Jan. 6. The clearinghouse now has more than 650,000 registrants.

“We’ve seen encouraging results from the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, but there’s still work to do to ensure we identify more drivers who should not be behind the wheel. The clearinghouse is a positive step, and the Agency continues to work closely with industry, law enforcement, and our state partners to ensure its implementation is effective,” said Jim Mullen, FMCSA acting administrator.

The clearinghouse is aimed at improving road safety by providing FMCSA and employers with the necessary tools to identify drivers who have violated federal drug and alcohol testing program requirements and are prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle. The goal of the clearinghouse is to ensure that such drivers receive the required evaluation and treatment before they have the opportunity to resume driving.

Those required to register for the clearinghouse include:

  • Employers of commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders, or their designated service agents, and medical review officers who report drug and alcohol program violations that occurred on or after Jan. 6, 2020;
  • Employers or their designated service agents who conduct required queries that inform them whether prospective or current employees have drug and alcohol program violations in their clearinghouse records. Employers must purchase a query plan before conducting queries in the clearinghouse – query plans must be purchased from the FMCSA clearinghouse website only;
  • Drivers who respond to employer consent requests or would like to view their clearinghouse record when applying for a job; and
  • Substance abuse professionals who report on the completion of driver initial assessments and driver eligibility for return-to-duty testing for violations committed on or after Jan. 6, 2020.

There is no cost for registration. Commercial drivers are not required to immediately register for the clearinghouse but will need to register to respond to an employer’s request for consent prior to a pre-employment query or other full query being conducted. In addition, employers must be registered during the first year of implementation to ensure they are able to conduct the required annual query on all employed drivers.

Combatting drug abuse has been a top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration. President Trump has brought attention to the nation’s opioid crisis by declaring it a nationwide public health emergency and has implemented critical federal initiatives to help reduce opioid abuse.

For information about FMCSA’s clearinghouse program, including user brochures and instructional aids with step-by-step registration instructions, visit clearinghouse.fmcsa.dot.gov.

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