August 15, 2007 12:00 PM, EDT

States to Delay Collecting SSRS Fees

Move Avoids Possible Double-Billing

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 13 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

States that participated in the Single State Registration System before its termination have agreed to postpone collecting fees until September, despite Congress’ extension of the program, officials said.

The postponed SSRS-fee collection will allow more time for its replacement, the Unified Carrier Registration system, to get up and running.

It will also avoid double-billing trucking companies for state registration fees under both systems, the officials said.

“The states . . . in most cases have agreed to hold off until Sept. 1 from sending out anything on Single-State in the hopes of being about to implement UCR,” Bill Leonard, director of motor compliance for the New York Department of Transportation, told Transport Topics.

New York is one of 39 states that had participated in SSRS before Congress abolished the program in 2005 in favor of the new UCR.

“We’re looking at Single-State as something in our back pocket,” Leonard said.

States participating in SSRS or UCR use revenues derived from the multistate fee collection system to fund commercial vehicle en-forcement programs. They have received no revenue this year, because SSRS was defunct and UCR was not operating.

The informal agreement among the SSRS states to postpone billing occurs just weeks after Congress voted to reinstate the fee-collection program amid concerns that UCR was still not operating. (7-30, p. 1).

“The intent of the state is to be just a little bit flexible,” said Dick Henderson, director of government affairs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which represents the affected state agencies. “Everyone realizes the ultimate goal is to have UCR, not to bring back SSRS permanently.”

Congress repealed SSRS in the 2005 highway legislation after a push from the trucking industry, which said the system was unfair.

Under SSRS, for-hire carriers paid per-truck registration fees totaling more than $100 million annually. The UCR system has a broader revenue base; in addition to for-hire carriers, it includes private fleets and non-asset-based entities such as brokers and forwarders, which would be subject to a regime of flat fees based on fleet size (6-4, p. 5).

State officials said they hoped the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Department of Transportation would publish the final fee schedule for UCR, allowing the states to collect revenue.

Bob Pitcher, American Trucking Associations vice president of state laws and vice chairman of the board setting up the new UCR, said he understood that “since the states are short of money, they need to make a decision.”

ATA opposed reinstating SSRS because it could lead to double billing for fees, and the SSRS fees are higher and disproportionately affect for-hire trucking companies.

Pitcher said paying the SSRS fees would constitute “a significant expense to fleets that were not accounting for it.”

While ATA and other groups opposed the congressional extension of SSRS last month, citing fears of possible double payments, CVSA’s Henderson said he believed no state would try to collect both sets of fees.

“It is not their intention to collect both SSRS and UCR at the same time,” he said. “It’s going to be one or the other.”

CVSA is an organization that represents state commercial vehicle enforcement agencies.

Henderson called the possible revival of SSRS “a Band-Aid fix.”

“It’s not an intent on the part of Congress to bring back SSRS and cement it in place solidly,” he said.

“I’d say the general consensus is that we’re not looking forward to going to industry [to collect SSRS],” said Leonard. “We’ve been prepping for UCR and we’re hopeful that we can go forward with it.”

Leonard said the process of reviving SSRS was more complicated than just “dusting off last year’s application and changing the dates,” since the fees were set based on how many vehicles were on the road.

“We’re also polling all the [SSRS] states to see if they have the enabling legislation to collect SSRS,” he said. “There’s a chance that some states went ahead and changed the law.”

Pitcher said at its next meeting, the UCR board could decide that if DOT does not publish the fees before the Sept. 1 deadline, to simply move forward with UCR for 2008 and allow SSRS fees to be taken for this year. However, he said he is not sure whether the board can “do more than request a state not use UCR.”

Leonard said that either way, it was important for states to collect either the UCR fee or the SSRS fee soon.

“It’s no picnic for us,” he said, “but it’s certainly nice to have [SSRS] as an option, because quite frankly we’re very close to a year with no revenue stream.”