Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Follow the money

Those three simple words uttered 40 years ago during the Watergate scandal are as relevant today as they were then.

Ever wonder why nothing much changes in America?

Well, look to the power of lobbyists with deep pockets who prevent progressive change in this country.

From the National Rifle Association to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) to the National Association of Home Builders lobbies control America.

The vote of the people doesn't stand a chance against the billions spent each year buying legislators in Washington, D.C., and in state houses across the land.

To help sort some of this out is, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks how much money is spent and who gets it.

The lobbies mentioned above are deemed "heavy hitters," meaning that they are among "the 140 biggest overall donors to federal elections since the 1990 election cycle, as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics."

These powerful lobbies not only buy votes, but make sure a legislator is defeated next time around if he or she doesn't toe their special interest line.

In other words, we can never get reasonable gun control because the NRA literally puts a gun to the head of lawmakers.

We can never really maintain a decent quality of life when the National Association of Home Builders makes sure its members avoid paying their fair share of growth-related infrastructure problems that they create.

And, thanks to the American Trucking Associations, truckers don't have to pay their fair share for the damage they do to the nation's roads.

Not only that, but the trucking lobby gets government to blame the owner of a Prius for not paying their fair share of gasoline taxes.

In Oregon, the highway department is considering changing the way we pay for road maintenance by going from the current fuel tax system to a "vehicle miles traveled" model.

Of course, thanks to lobbying from the trucking industry, this VMT would only affect cars that get more than 55 miles per gallon.

In other words, the state is looking at owners of hybrid or electric vehicles to pay for damage to roadways caused primarily by heavy trucks.

It is common knowledge in the trucking industry and government transportation departments that heavy trucks, compared to the average sedans, cause almost all the damage to our roads.

We hear lots of talk in Oregon about all the damage done to our roads by studded tires, but this bogus argument is pushed by the trucking industry to deflect attention away from the triple trailers.

At the height of their usage in the mid-1990s, only 16 percent of Oregon vehicles used studded tires. (And, that's only for five months out of the year.) Since then, the use of studless snow tires has surged to the point that studded tires are lucky to be used on even 5 percent of Oregon vehicles. Costco stopped selling studded tires years ago. And yet, all we hear is the costly damage that studded tires cause our roads. We rarely, if ever, hear about the real damage that heavy trucks inflict on our transportation system.

And, while traffic on rural roads, such as those found in Central Oregon, has declined over the past 8 years, the average load, due to heavy trucks, has skyrocketed.

So, why is ODOT concerned about the tiny percentage of vehicles that get such good gas mileage they don't need to fill up so often or, in the case of electric vehicles, don't have to fill up at all?

Because, the trucking industry wants to divert attention away from the real problem: heavy trucks.

There is a proposal in Washington, though, that would tax trucks on the vehicle miles traveled model, which would increase taxes paid by truckers. Of course, the trucking industry is ready for battle.

The ATA will fight any plan that raises the trucking tax by even 1 cent.

And, the ATA has the money to win.

This means that those citizens who do the right thing by investing in a hybrid or electric vehicle will have to pay the freight, and more, for all those freight trucks causing all the damage to our roads.

It's all about the money.

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