Sen. John Chafee, R-RI, the sponsor of the legislation, said that trucking's overall tax bill would be the same as it is now - about $11 billion a year. What he wants to do is raise the taxes that the heaviest trucks pay into the Highway Trust Fund, because he believes they do not pay their fair share for highway damage.
Chafee's weight-distance tax would replace the 12% excise tax on new trucks, the tire tax and the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax. The effect would be a tax reduction for 5.9 million light and medium trucks, and an increase for 1.5 million heavier trucks, Chafee said.
Under the bill, S. 1056, a two-axle truck grossing from 25,000 to 30,000 pounds would pay one-half cent per mile. The rate rises steeply as axle weight goes up. A typical five-axle combination grossing from 75,000 to 80,000 pounds would pay 3.75 cents per mile. A four-axle combination in that weight range would pay 7.5 cents per mile.
Chafee opposes the HVUT because it does not cover trucks weighing more than 75,000 pounds. "'Heavy trucks' don't pay any more in taxes as their weight increases, even though the extra weight does exponentially more damage," he said.
In other provisions, the bill allows a credit against the weight-distance tax for mileage on tollroads, and eliminates the tax differential between gasoline and diesel. It would lower the 24.3-cent diesel tax to 18.3 cents, the same as gas.
This bill raises the stakes in the continuing struggle between trucks and railroads over truck productivity. Another bill recently introduced in the House would let states raise truck weight limits from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds on the Interstate Highway System
The railroads oppose higher weight limits, and the trucking industry opposes weight-distance taxes on grounds that they are expensive to administer and easy for scofflaws to dodge, which makes them unfair to honest operators.
It is too soon to say what will come of Chafee's bill. One Hill expert noted that the measure bears watching, though. As the second-ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Chafee is in a position to move the bill.