Friday, June 24, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Greedy truckers want a free ride

It would not be the first time that the Arkansas Legislature has been rolled by a big monied interest. You do not have enough digits to count all the instances, if only for the past decade. Legislators get rolled joyfully, as long as it is by the big boys. But Gov. Beebe? He was supposed to be cagier.

The Arkansas Bus and Truck Association, the lobbying organ for the trucking industry, asked the governor the other day not to call a special election on a five-cent-a-gallon diesel tax because its poll showed that Arkansas voters were firmly opposed to taxing the big trucks that tear up the major thoroughfares, which it said would make a special election a waste.

But they want the governor and the legislature to leave alone the big tax cut for the industry that it negotiated with the legislature this spring. The tax cut—elimination of the sales tax on big tractor rigs and trailers—was a quid-pro-quo deal. The industry would support the little diesel tax in exchange for rolling back the sales tax on big rigs. The legislature and the governor said fine. The law allows the governor to schedule a special election on the diesel tax, and if it passes, the state will issue bonds to repair and expand the system of primary highways that the interstate trucks use.

The Bus and Truck Association says it’s still willing to pay a nickel a gallon more for the diesel they burn (farmers would be exempt from it), but that the voters just won’t stand for it and it doesn’t think a marketing campaign would convince them. But it still needs the tax exemption and wants it to stand.

Beebe said it was no deal. If there is to be no diesel tax, he will ask the legislature to repeal the tax exemption, too. Ordinary people still have to pay sales and use taxes on their vehicles.

Even the tax-cutting Republicans who pushed the tax exemption for the truckers, one of a half-dozen tax cuts for business they rammed through the legislature, say they probably would vote to repeal the exemption. They still would like for the trucks not to have to pay taxes but they said that was the deal and that both sides ought to stick to it. Good for them.

As for the poll on the diesel tax, we think it is bogus. Polls can be finessed to show what the sponsors want them to show. Here are two indisputable facts: Most people want their highways improved and they know that the damage is caused primarily by heavy tractor-trailers. It could be that the anti-tax hysteria stirred up by the Republicans makes everyone want to oppose any kind of tax on anyone, including tax-dodging billionaires and corporations and road-pounding trucks, but we think voters are more discerning than that.

Call the election, governor, and see if the industry is sincere about supporting a tax on its fuel. If the tax does fail, see if the legislature is principled enough to enforce the deal on the tax exemption.

—Ernie Dumas