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Round 2 of infrastructure talks go bust as Trump walks out of meeting

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 President Donald Trump delivers a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House shortly after abruptly walking out of a meeting with Democrats to discuss an infrastructure bill. (Associated Press: EVAN VUCCI)

WASHINGTON — The curtains in the Cabinet Room were drawn. The Democrats were waiting. President Donald Trump came and went in all of three minutes.

Round 2 of the president’s consultations with congressional Democrats on infrastructure went bust in a flash.

Prospects for passing a large infrastructure bill evaporated Wednesday as Trump announced that he won’t work with Democratic lawmakers on policy while they continue to investigate him.

Trump took umbrage at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusation earlier in the day of him being “engaged in a cover up.”

He met briefly with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats before exiting to address reporters in the Rose Garden.

His message: Only after the Democrats’ investigations end will he work with them on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and other matters.

Speaking at the Capitol, Pelosi and Schumer suggested that Trump was looking for excuses not to take up infrastructure.

“He just took a pass,” Pelosi said. “And it just makes me wonder why he did that. In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.”

The meeting was supposed to be a follow-up from three weeks ago, when Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to work together on a $2 trillion infrastructure package to invest in roads, bridges and broadband.

Schumer said that congressional committees had been undertaking investigations during that first meeting as well.

“And he still met with us. But now that he was forced to actually say how he was going to pay for it, he had to run away,” Schumer said.

Earlier in the week, POLITICO reported the administration had been reassuring conservative leaders that it has no plans to hike the gas and diesel tax to help fund the massive infrastructure package that President Donald Trump hopes to negotiate with Congress.

Then Tuesday night, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced legislation that would raise the fuels tax by five cents a year over five years, indexes it to inflation, and establishes Congress’ intention to replace it with a more equitable, stable source of funding within 10 years.

Wednesday, Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, criticized Trump’s action.

“We have an infrastructure crisis in this country that will only be resolved when President Trump agrees to put partisan politics aside and get serious about investing in our Nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, harbors, airports, wastewater systems, and more,” DeFazio said. “After our initial meeting at the White House several weeks back, I was hopeful we were seeing the first signs of political courage that is so badly needed to make progress and turn a campaign trail talking point into real action. It’s disappointing that today the President and his team walked back from both the $2 trillion proposal and from showing leadership on how to pay for the package.”

DeFazio said despite the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, he remains committed to working in a bipartisan manner to move the U.S. infrastructure into the 21st Century, because the cost of inaction is too great.

“Even if a transformative deal with the White House remains elusive in the near term, I will continue to use my position as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to work with Republicans to move individual pieces of legislation that will make a difference, I will continue to work on a surface transportation reauthorization bill, and I will continue putting in the legwork to make the improvements to our nation’s infrastructure that Americans expect and deserve,” DeFazio said.

There were obvious signs of trouble going into the meeting, with both sides being guarded about how they would pay for such an investment. The White House released a letter Tuesday night that Trump wrote Pelosi and Schumer letting them know his preference for Congress taking up the proposed U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada first.

“Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Trump said.

Congressional committees have begun holding hearings on the nation’s infrastructure needs. It’s one of the few issues that lawmakers from both parties have said they would like to address.

Business and trade groups have been meeting with White House officials to emphasize the importance of shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road improvements and transit systems. Federal fuel taxes supply most of the money that goes into the trust fund, but the purchasing power of the gas tax has declined as vehicles have become more fuel efficient.

Some 30 states have enacted fuel tax increases to raise money for local roads and bridges over the past six years, but Congress has not approved a fuel tax increase since 1993. It now stands at 18.3 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.3 cents a gallon for diesel.

The advocacy groups are trying to make the case that state politicians supportive of gas tax increases have not been punished at the ballot box.

But Republican leaders in Congress have shown little enthusiasm for the price tag of the infrastructure plan, and even less for the idea of raising the federal fuel tax to help pay for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure. Trump himself has suggested that Democrats are somehow setting a trap to get him to go along with a tax increase.

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The Nation

Lane Departures: Why would California lawmakers saddle trucking with the ABC test?

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Well, he said he’d do it.

If you look elsewhere on this website, you’ll see a story I did about a week ago about AB5, a bill passed by the California Senate on September 10 into the waiting arms of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had long telegraphed he was looking forward to signing it.

Yesterday, he did it. And come the new year, trucking is going to have to live with it.

AB5 — the full name is the “Employees and Independent Contractors” bill — is ostensibly intended to prevent employers from exploiting workers and skirting expenses by relying on “independent contractors” to make their businesses run instead of hiring full-fledged employees, who come with all kinds of nasty baggage like guaranteed minimum wages, overtime and payroll taxes, mandatory breaks, insurance and other horrific profit reducers.

The bill got off the ground in the wake of a court case last year in which a delivery company called Dynamex was determined to have improperly reclassified its workers as independent contractors in order to save money.  In making the decision, the court applied what is known as the ABC test, which presumes all workers should be classified as employees unless they meet three criteria.

Like the court case, the bill, which will codify the ABC test across the state, seems to have been at least in spirit aimed at companies like Dynamex that are part of that there so-called “gig economy” all the young folks are so hopped up about. Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are almost always mentioned as Public Enemies 1A and 1B of supposed independent contractor charlatans.

The problem with AB5, its critics say, is it proposes to perform an appendectomy with a chainsaw, ripping into industries that have long-established business models that extensively use independent contractors to the satisfaction of all involved.

A great big example would be trucking, because it appears the ABC test would prevent carriers from contracting with owner-operators or smaller fleets in California. I’ll let you imagine the consequences if that’s true.

If you’ve read the article, or your planning to read the article, I’d like to apologize in advance because as I’ve been learning about this AB5 business, I have some lingering questions that I could not answer. I have calls out to a couple of experts on the legal and logistical nuances. Unfortunately, experts don’t observe journalistic deadlines.

But then, I figured, this story is going to be around a while, so we can keep building on what we know. I may have answers to some of these questions by the time you read this. Or maybe you will be able to provide some of the answers. I mean, you don’t need to have a title or a degree or be part of a think tank to know a thing or two.

My first question is this: They didn’t pull this ABC test out of thin air. A majority of states already use the test in some manner on matters of job status. California’s application of ABC is based on Massachusetts’ broad, strict use of the test. So, hasn’t trucking had to contend with this standard there and in in other states already? I haven’t heard reports of empty store shelves in Massachusetts. Is there some simple workaround already in existence just waiting for cooler heads to prevail?

Second, from what I gather, ABC has had its critics for as long as it’s existed. Is it just the sheer size of California’s economy that makes this case so important or somehow different?

I’m going to go way out on a limb and say “probably.” Last year, California’s economy outgrew that of Great Britain. If it were an independent country, California would have the fifth-largest economy in the world. And what happens in California rarely stays in California. The state has a major influence on the rest of the nation.

California’s economy is closing in on $3 trillion a year. Real estate, finance, the entertainment industry and that nest of tech behemoths in Silicon Valley are responsible for big chunks of that.

And let’s not forget agriculture. California ranches and farms reaped $50 billion in receipts in 2017. That’s a lot of food, a lot of truckloads.

California also has some of the nation’s largest seaports. The Port of Long Beach alone sees about $200 billion in cargo a year, with 11,000 truckloads leaving the port each day. And most of what doesn’t go by truck from there eventually winds up on a truck somewhere inland.

Add it all up, and trucking is a huge player in the California economic machine. Why would lawmakers want to strip its gears with this law? Some lawmakers are even on record saying they are worried about what this could do to the industry. Then why are they doing it?

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, is not some gung-ho rookie lawmaker. She’s in her third term, and she already has made a national name for herself as a champion of the working class with several pieces of legislation she has supported.

AB5 could fit into that collection quite nicely. But it isn’t a trophy she needs in a hurry. She won her last two reelection campaigns by about a 3-1 margin.

And she’s also been around enough that she surely understands that despite its best intentions, the broad-stroke, one-size-fits-all approach AB5 takes will do more harm than good to many industries, including trucking.

In fact, she’s as much as said so. Gonzalez has already indicated that once the bill becomes law, she’d be open to making amendments and granting exemptions.

So why wait? The bill already grants exemptions to real estate, to doctors and dentists. Even newspaper delivery people got a last-minute, one-year exemption.

The California Trucking Association and the Western States Trucking Association pushed for an exemption. Dozens of truck drivers testified in Sacramento. And you have to think state legislators are at least vaguely aware of what goes on in their own districts.

So, they could grasp the importance of the guy who throws a newspaper in their driveway from a passing car at 4 a.m., but not of the people who deliver, like, everything everywhere all the time?

We all know how long fixing bad legislation can take. Even if they put it on the “fast track,” how much damage will occur before trucking can get an exemption?

I did hear back from one legal expert on the matter. Greg Feary, president and managing partner at Scopelitus, Garvin, Light, Hansen and Feary LLC, said there are a couple of cases in Ninth Circuit Court that could spell relief for the trucking industry. Even so, the legal system can move almost as slowly as the legislative system. He estimates California truckers are going to have to live with AB5 for at least a year.

Questions abound. I’m not looking forward to some of the answers.

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The Nation

Trucking submarine style in Texas

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Texas is getting hit hard with flooding.  This takes it to new levels!


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The Nation

Flooding in Texas – That cab’s gonna be a bit damp!

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KHOU reporter Melissa Correa happened to be on scene and captured this video.  Another motorist grabbed a hammer and rope and saved the drivers life.

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