Special Coverage



ATA Leader Chris Spear Reflects on Gains Ahead of Conference

Federation President Sees Opportunities for Trucking
Chris Spear
Chris Spear speaks during last year's address at MCE. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said 2023 was a year of progress for the federation, and is ready to discuss the strides made and the opportunities that lie ahead during the upcoming ATA Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin, Texas.

“I’m looking forward to this great opportunity to really talk about these issues and set the tenor,” Spear told Transport Topics during an episode of the TT Newsmakers program centered on the upcoming show. “I think we want to make sure we have the pulse of our members and MCE is obviously an opportunity to do that.”

The convention is scheduled to take place Oct. 14-17 at the Austin Convention Center.

Spear is focused on a list of issues that fleets, drivers, shippers and other stakeholders consider important to the industry, including expanding truck parking, workforce development and bringing more young people into trucking. Also on the agenda are continuing the fight for lawsuit abuse reform, an ongoing case before a federal appeals court to uphold a court decision to strike down Rhode Island’s trucks-only tolling program, and repeal of the federal excise tax on sales of new trucks.

Spear said repeal of the World War I-era tax on new truck sales has become a top priority, as he believes it is actually keeping some fleets from buying new, more fuel-efficient trucks with updated emissions equipment and instead keeping older vehicles on the road.

“I think any law — once it’s on the books — it’s hard to get rid of. And this is one of them,” he said. “It was in a group of taxes used to fund trench warfare in World War I. It really is the only tax that remains of that grouping. It’s a 12.5% tax on every new tractor sold that averages out to about $25,000 per tractor. If you were to put newer equipment that is available right now on the lot out on the roads, you would have a dramatic impact not just on safety but on the environment as well.”

Spear has testified before Congress on this issue, and ATA is working with lawmakers to identify a way to replace the money that the federal Treasury would lose as a result of the repeal. He noted that the tax generates about $5 billion a year, which he described as a “rounding error” within the context of an overall proposed $6.9 trillion federal budget.

Another issue with high financial implications for carriers is Rhode Island’s appeal of a 2022 federal district court ruling that determined the state’s trucks-only tolling program is unconstitutional. Oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit were held on Sept. 12.


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“Looking at the appeal, I feel that our counsel is comfortable with our arguments and our ability to respond to this,” Spear said. “We feel that we’re going to win this. We should win this. It’s just absolute corruption. When you have a state taxing out-of-state vehicles, it’s a violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause. The federal district court judge ruled in our favor based on those merits, and we feel we will win on appeal as well.”

ATA and other groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argued Rhode Island’s tolling system was designed for the express unconstitutional purpose of forcing out-of-state trucks engaged in interstate commerce to finance repair of the state’s infrastructure.

“Rhode Island’s a small state, but if this were to stand it’s going to spread to New York, Connecticut, Indiana, my home state of Wyoming,” Spear added.

Spear said ATA and state associations are also making progress with efforts to combat multimillion-dollar “nuclear verdicts,” which are considered those with jury awards in excess of $10 million.

“I think the plaintiff’s bar has declared war on the trucking industry, and in 2019 we started swinging. We declared this as a tier one issue,” he said. “We’ve seen tremendous success, multiple wins in several states, including Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Montana, West Virginia, Georgia, and just recently in Florida and Iowa. And this is an effort that’s going to continue over several years.”

The past year leading up to MCE has also been marked for Spear by several face-to-face meetings with Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other federal officials on top issues before regulators, including expanding availability of safe truck parking.

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“Our federal government has got to give [drivers] the tools — they’ve got to give them the parking spaces needed to comply with federal law,” Spear said. “We’re really carrying that message on Capitol Hill. We’ve seen some successes in Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, Texas. We’re also seeing movement to add parking in South Dakota and Wyoming. If you do not have a place to park your equipment, you’re going to spend a lot of time and money at the driver’s expense looking for that place to park and comply with the hours-of-service regulations; 98% of drivers say they’ve experienced this.”

Spear added, “There is general agreement across the board that this is a necessary investment of our infrastructure funds.”