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Up Front- Repeating History

SHANNON NEWTON 2Shannon Newton
President, ATA

In December 1982, Pres. Ronald Reagan faced a problem that feels eerily familiar. Four thousand miles of the not-yet complete interstate system was in need of resurfacing and 23,000 bridges in need of repair. The gas tax, which had been levied to fund the interstate system, had not been increased since three years before construction began. And it no longer covered expenses.

In the Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, for the first time in 23 years, Congress more than doubled the gas tax, raising it five cents to a total of 9 cents a gallon. The bill authorized $71 billion for highway construction, road repairs and mass transit.

Pres. Reagan was asked point-blank at a press conference the preceding September if he would flatly rule out raising the gas tax. His answer? “Unless there’s a palace coup and I’m overtaken or overthrown, no I don’t see the necessity for that.”

And yet, three months later, he did, without coup. His position changed, and he said as he unveiled the new law, “When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax. … It was a fair concept then, and it is today.”

Reagan is upheld as a conservative role model, and even he knew that when the roads beneath trucks crumble, a user fee is the most efficient way to protect safety, commerce and the years of labor that went into building the interstate system.

Fast forward to 2018, 25 years since the last gas tax increase. Pres. Trump has decried the conditions of America’s infrastructure since before he entered office. He’s acutely aware, like Pres. Reagan, that our current highways are unsafe, inefficient and a source of shame.

The White House and many in the Republican Party are quick, like Reagan, to reject the idea of raising the gas tax to fund the necessary improvements. However, in the last few months, again like Reagan, the President seems to be softening his position.

And I am here for it.

The gas tax is unpopular politically, but over and over, it has provided real money to solve the problems and fill the potholes we all encounter. We don’t consider Reagan a failure, not even for reneging on his previous tax stance. He’s one of the most well-loved presidents in history. He made the responsible, conservative decision and one America needed.

It is conservative fiscal policy to fund the preservation of our infrastructure without increasing the deficit.  It is sound tax policy to assess fees for service against those who directly benefit from that service. 

Pres. Trump should be applauded, not discouraged, for his endorsement of a 25 cent gas tax increase over five years. The $340 billion raised will go a long way toward making America’s infrastructure great again. It’s one piece of history we shouldn’t be ashamed to repeat.

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201

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Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
  • PROMOTE the dynamics of trucking so that people have a better understanding of the link between America's primary freight delivery system and the standard of living they enjoy.
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