Special Coverage



Spear Targets Truck Excise Tax, Legal Reform

State of the Industry Address Also Praises Truck Drivers for Fulfilling Essential Role
Chris Spear delivers 2023 State of the Industry address

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AUSTIN, Texas — During his annual State of the Industry address at American Trucking Associations’ 2023 Management Conference & Exhibition, ATA President Chris Spear emphasized a need for litigation reform and the repeal of a federal excise tax on new trucks.

The ATA leader in his Oct. 16 speech to the federation described the impact the World War I-era 12% tax has on freight stakeholders. Spear explained to attendees at the conference that the tax results in “roughly $25,000 per power unit.”

ATA and other opponents of the tax indicate its elimination would assist the industry with modernizing fleets. Stakeholders continue to call on Congress to repeal the long-standing tax.

Responding to industry pushback, this year Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) unveiled the Modern, Clean and Safe Trucks Act of 2023, which would repeal the tax. “It’s time to repeal this outdated and onerous tax on our Hoosier truckers,” Young said. House lawmakers introduced a similar bill. Both measures await committee consideration.

A need for reforming aspects of the justice system also remains central to ATA’s policy priorities, as Spear categorized lawsuit abuse as an ongoing threat to the industry. “Trial lawyers chasing jackpot justice, self-promoting union bosses and delusional environmental extremists. Together, they constitute a clear threat to our industry’s ability to grow and support our nation’s economic security,” Spear said.

He continued, “If you belong to a state association and want to put trial lawyers on their heels, speak up. Help make lawsuit abuse a priority in your state capital. Lend your support and testimony. Jackpot justice has no place in the courtroom and no place in our industry.”

Spear also took aim at California. The Golden State is angling to wind down the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines. At issue is the California Air Resources Board’s looming mandate requiring manufacturers to transition from selling diesel-powered trucks and vans to selling electric zero-emission trucks.

“We stand alongside the California Trucking Association as they file suit against the California Air Resources Board: an unelected, ill-informed band of extremists who have no clue the impact their timelines and targets will have on our economy,” Spear explained.

Relatedly, the following day Spear went on to share similar views with members of the European Parliament. “California’s development of the Advanced Clean Truck and Advanced Clean Fleet rules aims to create a zero-emission vehicle market beginning next year. Given where the technology, infrastructure, power grid, cost and operational requirements stand, these regulations will undoubtedly fail to deliver the vehicles and market adoption California seeks,” Spear said in testimony delivered virtually before the European Parliament.

During his wide-ranging keynote address on Oct. 16, the ATA leader praised truck drivers’ essential role in the nation’s supply chain. He also highlighted recent federal action to expand truck parking capacity. Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced more than $80 million in grants for highway safety and truck parking programs. Transportation agencies in Louisiana, Florida and Tennessee were awarded grants for expanding access to truck parking. The federal funds stem from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in 2021.

Enhancing workforce diversity industrywide is another pillar of ATA’s mission. Spear pointed to the advancement of the Women In Motion program as a response to the need to recruit and retain women in the freight workplace.

“The purpose of Women In Motion,” according to ATA, “is to promote and support the advancement of women in the trucking industry by providing access to robust training, mentorship and networking programs, advocating for policies and practices that create a level playing field for women in the industry, and fostering communication and collaboration among women and their allies.”

“We are committed to helping our state association partners shape legislation, strategies and outcomes. We’re helping fund awareness, so state lawmakers understand what’s at stake and do the right thing,” Spear said, noting: “These are today’s stakes, which underscores why advocacy matters. Without a seat at the table, our industry — our way of life — could look entirely different over the next decade. Which is why we must evolve and adapt more quickly than any threat that comes our way.”

Phil Byrd

“I love this industry and I love the people of this industry,” Byrd told the MCE audience. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

As part of his keynote address, Spear recognized the contributions of former ATA Chairman Phil Byrd for leading the federation’s charitable arm, the Trucking Cares Foundation. Byrd, president and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express, received the 2023 Trucking Cares Foundation’s John Lex Premier Achievement Award.

“I love this industry and I love the people of this industry,” Byrd told the MCE audience. “And I love the fact that we care. We care about America. We care about the needs of this country and the world. And collectively, we’re going about making a difference.”

“His family, his church, his company and our association are stronger because of him. He’s led with faith, conviction and an unyielding commitment to improving people’s lives. He has experienced personal loss,” said Spear, adding, “and through God’s grace, rediscovered the joys life can miraculously provide — and he has and will continue to lead through this conference as our foundation’s first chairman.”

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