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California gas tax repeal campaign seeks federal inquiry

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SACRAMENTO, Calif.  — Leaders of a campaign to repeal California’s recent gas and diesel tax increase asked the federal government this week to investigate their claims that public resources have been used against them.

Their allegations are based on emails and other documents that appear to show local government workers discussing the repeal effort, known as Proposition 6. In one, a San Francisco official says in an email that showing how gas tax funds benefit the city is important “to support the anti-repeal campaign.”

“It’s damning, it’s unacceptable,” Proposition 6 campaign leader Carl DeMaio said Tuesday. “They are using taxpayer dollars to influence an election.”

Republican Congressman Ken Calvert requested an investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general, saying some of the agencies involved receive some federal money. De Maio said he obtained the emails through public records requests and that he also plans to file complaints with local district attorneys. He held a press conference Wednesday outlining the charges.

A spokeswoman for the anti-Proposition 6 campaign denied improper behavior.

“The No on Prop 6 campaign follows all campaign laws,” Robin Swanson said in a statement. “We’re working hard to educate voters about how damaging Prop 6 will be to the safety of our roads and bridges.”

A law called SB1 , passed by California lawmakers, raised gasoline taxes by 12 cents a gallon starting last November and diesel taxes by 20 cents. Diesel sales taxes also rose, and drivers are paying a new annual fee with their vehicle registration, ranging from $25 to $175 depending on the value of the vehicle. The taxes and fees all rise each year, based on inflation.

It’s projected to increase about $5 billion a year to address a backlog of deferred maintenance on state and local roadways. The California Department of Transportation highlights projects funded by the tax increase on signs around the state that include an address to a website outlining how SB1 money is spent.

The California Department of Transportation said Wednesday it will not include the website address on future signs after federal officials said it may not comply with rules that aim to ensure road signs are easy to read, department spokesman Matt Rocco said. The change will not affect the cost, Rocco said.

DeMaio highlighted a news story about the signs’ possible non-compliance as further evidence of wrongdoing.

Proposition 6 would repeal the tax and fee increases and also require voter approval for any future increases in gas taxes or vehicle fees. Opponents of the ballot measure say the tax increase benefits the state and is needed to repair the state’s crumbling roads.

In one email exchange from June, a few days before Proposition 6 officially qualified for the ballot, the Sacramento Regional Transit Agency asks an organization it contracts with to help with its “educational campaign” that “related to the gas tax repeal.”

Devra Selenis, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the agency has never told people how to vote. On behalf of RT, the contractor, Valley Vision, organized a community event where various groups highlighted the benefits of SB1, she said.

“We are allowed to educate on benefits of what SB1 covers and that’s all we’ve ever done,” Selenis said. “That is the public’s right to know what we spend money on.”

The Proposition 6 campaign alleges the emails show an attempt to influence the outcome of the ballot measure because the education campaign is scheduled through the election and is “related to the gas tax repeal.”

DeMaio also points to a Sept. 25, 2017, email sent by Kate Breen, the government affairs director for the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, to colleagues, in which she summarizes the progress of efforts to repeal SB1.

“To support the anti-repeal campaign, it will be important that SF continues to document how SB 1 finds (sic) are benefiting SF,” Breen wrote.

Proposition 6 proponents say the email indicates the transit agency was interested in influencing the campaign. It’s not clear what efforts the agency did to promote the gas tax. The email was sent before the measure qualified for the ballot but after the campaign had filed paperwork to begin collecting signatures.

“The proposition hadn’t even qualified for the statewide ballot,” Paul Rose, the transit agency’s spokesman, said in an email. “There was no campaign to work for or against. Since that time the measure has become real and we have been very careful not to advocate as a public agency.”

In another email released by the Proposition 6 campaign, the California Transit Association, a lobbying organization, sent a plan to local government agencies outlining campaigning plans to oppose SB1 repeal. It’s not clear from the documents if any of the government agencies copied on the email acted on the plan laid out by the association. The October 2017 email describes efforts to persuade vulnerable Republican members of Congress to avoid backing Proposition 6.

DeMaio also pointed to signs at construction sites saying “your tax dollars at work” with a prominent SB1 logo and allegations that state contractors distributed fliers urging voters to keep the tax increase in place. The Fair Political Practices Commission has said it’s investigating the matter.

PHOTO CAPTION

In this July 11, 2018, file photo, workers repave a street in Roseville, California, partially funded by a gas tax hike passed by the Legislature in 2017. Leaders of the Proposition 6 campaign to repeal California’s recent gas tax increase are asking the federal government to investigate their claims that public resources have been used against them. A spokeswoman for the anti-Proposition 6 campaign countered the allegations, saying the campaign follows all laws. (Associated Press: PEDRONCELLI)

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TCA honors three professional truck drivers as Highway Angels

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From left, Michael Morgan, Peter Lester and Sam Dyess have been named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association. (Courtesy: TCA)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. —  Peter Lester, Sam Dyess  and Michael Morgan have been named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association in recognition for heroic action while on duty.

Lester, who lives in Vero Beach, Florida, and is a a professional truck driver for Carroll Fulmer Logistics Corp. of Groveland, Florida, is being recognized for saving a fellow truck driver’s life and thwarting fire at facility.

Dyess, who lives in Killeen, Texas, and is a professional truck driver for Melton Truck Lines of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is being recognized for assisting a couple whose vehicle was pushed into his truck by another truck on a mountain overpass during a blizzard.

Morgan, who lives at San Angelo, Texas, and is a professional truck driver for Melton Truck Lines of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is being recognized for his willingness to assist motorists after they lost control of their SUV on slick roads and veered off the highway

On December 8, 2018, Lester was making an early morning delivery at the Coca Cola facility in Jacksonville, Florida.  There were a few parking spots available out on the road on a residential street, so Lester pulled in there to do some paperwork as he had arrived early to the delivery.  There were two trucks parked there already, and there was just enough room for Lester to back in behind the second truck.  Once he got settled, he noticed a light coming from the front of the first truck and that seemed out of place.  Quickly, he noticed it was not a light, yet a flame, and he then saw smoke coming out from under the front wheels of the truck.

He pulled around and got on the horn to him to try and alert the truck, not knowing if someone was in the cab or not.

“I pulled the airhorn to notify anyone in there and the truck in front of him as well,” he said. “The flames then all broke out and more smoke came rushing out.  I hit the horn again with one hand and called 911 with the other.”.

Lester pulled his truck up to the Coca Cola entrance to alert the guard and facility that there was a fire near the premises, which backs up to a wooded area. By that point luckily the fire department was on their way so Peter knew first responders would be able to take it from there.  Although Lester never saw anyone get out of the trucks, he later found out there were people in both trucks, and saw the second truck pull out to safety.

“I’ve been driving since 1984 and I’ve never seen anything blow up the way this did so quickly,” Lester said. It started out looking like headlights, and then mushroomed in o flames.  I don’t believe the security guard would have noticed, so I am glad I pulled in when I did.”

On Thursday, November 24, 2018, Dyess was just west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, going over the mountains on Interstate 80 with a load on his flatbed headed to Washington state. The day was overcast when he’d left Cheyenne and now it started snowing hard. The temperature was in the low 20s.

“It was really coming down and I couldn’t see the lines in the road,” Dyess said.

He slowed to 30-40 mph. Three to four inches had already accumulated by the time he reached the overpass.

There was another truck up ahead of him and a Jeep Wrangler was traveling between the two trucks. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the truck in front of the Wrangler stopped in the middle of the interstate and the Wrangler stopped behind him. Dyess had plenty of follow distance and stopped 20-25 feet behind the Wrangler. There was another truck behind him. Dyess checked his mirrors and a moment later saw the first truck rolling backward. “We were on an incline. I don’t know if he missed a gear or was sliding,” he said.

The Wrangler shifted into reverse but could only go so far before being struck by the first truck and pushed into Dyess’s truck. Dyess couldn’t roll back because of the truck behind him. The Wrangler’s spare tire was pushed into Dyess’s front bumper and the force blew out the back window of the Wrangler. “I was laying on the horn to get the other trucker’s attention,” Dyess said. “Then it moved forward and took off, never stopping to check on the Wrangler.” The Wrangler resumed driving as did Dyess. He called the safety manager at Melton to report the incident relaying the information he was able to get off the first truck. He followed the Wrangler to the first exit where they both pulled to the side of the road. Dyess jumped out and went to check on the driver and passenger. “They said they were okay and had called the state troopers but were told it would be at least an hour before a trooper could arrive.” Dyess invited the driver and his wife to sit in his warm truck for nearly two hours while they waited. “We had a great conversation,” Dyess said.

Dyess’s good deed that day didn’t go unnoticed. The couple he helped contacted Melton Chairman and CEO Bob Peterson with a letter describing the incident first-hand. The driver and his wife were traveling home after a holiday weekend spent with family and were grateful for Dyess’s help. “He offered us water and waited patiently with us. We thanked him for his help and then he said something I won’t soon forget: ‘We are the knights of the highway and it’s our duty to make sure everyone is safe.’ He possesses an attitude and professionalism that should make you proud.”

Dyess is humble about his role that day. “I was just doing the right thing; trying to take care of business and maintain integrity,” he said. “Being a professional driver, it’s about more than just getting from Point A to Point B. You also need to take care of everyone around you; that’s my job.”

It was 8 a.m. February 12, and Morgan was on Highway 295 en route to Camden, New Jersey. He was trying to get ahead of a bad storm. It was snowing and sleeting and the roads were starting to get bad. Because of the poor conditions, Morgan was going about 45 mph in the right lane. Suddenly, a Lexus SUV came around on his left and got just far enough in front of Morgan for him to see the vehicle’s license plate before the driver lost control on the slick road and spun out. Morgan had just enough time to apply the brakes, slow the truck, and miss hitting the SUV by inches before it veered off the road and slammed into a tree.

Another truck driver traveling behind Morgan saw what happened and radioed him asking if he was okay and told Morgan he would call emergency services. Morgan pulled his truck to the shoulder and went to check on the SUV. There was extensive damage to the vehicle. The driver’s side had hit the tree. All the windows were broken and the roof was smashed in preventing the doors from being opened. There were two men inside. Although they were badly shaken, they didn’t appear to be injured.

Morgan saw a wedding band on the driver’s hand and started asking him questions about his family to distract him as they waited for state troopers to arrive. “He told me he had an eight-month-old son at home named Michael,” Morgan says with some emotion in his voice. “I have four kids of my own. I would hope that if something like that happened to me someone would stop to help. I was raised in a small community where everyone takes care of everyone,” he says. “You have to have compassion for others. It’s the right thing to do, otherwise we’re not doing what we’re supposed to in life.”

For their willingness to assist others in need, TCA has presented the three drivers with a certificate, patch, lapel pin and truck decals. Their employers have also received a certificate acknowledging their driver as a Highway Angel. Since the program’s inception in August 1997, hundreds of drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy, and courage they have displayed while on the job. EpicVue sponsors TCA’s Highway Angel program.

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Panel discussion focuses on major infrastructure issues facing the U.S.

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From left, Paul Skoutelas, Linda Bauer Darr, Jim Tymon and Dave Bauer sit for a panel discussion on major infrastructure issues. (Courtesy: AASHTO Journal)

WASHINGTON — A panel discussion last month during a legislative summit sponsored by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association focused on the major infrastructure issues facing the United States, especially in terms of generating more funding for transportation projects.

“The message we’re trying to get out there is that [transportation] not just about building roads like it was 30 years ago. It’s about maintaining what we have, operating it as efficiently as possible, and using all modes as part of a larger mobility network,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

His remarks and those of others on the panel were printed in the Journal, the official publication of AASHTO.

“Transportation really has an impact on quality of life and it is one of the few areas where we can come together in a bipartisan fashion,” he said.

Tymon also remained “cautiously optimistic” that some sort of infrastructure package will be agreed upon and passed by Congress and President Donald Trump. “Will it be $2 trillion? $1 trillion? We will take what we can get,” he noted. “But any kind of [infrastructure] package will have to address the highway trust fund shortfall and the time window is getting tight to do it. Because, come January 1 next year, everything will be locked down for the 2020 presidential election.”

Like AASHTO’s Tymon, Linda Bauer Darr, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies, said she remains “optimistic that something is going to happen – the only question is how big that something will be.”

The key sticking point is how to pay for it, she noted.

“[Members of Congress] will not stick their necks out until the president explains how to pay for it. You can’t not have the money. There are lots of infrastructure plans out there – take your pick – but it is where will the money come from that will decide everything.”

Dave Bauer, ARTBA’s president and CEO, agreed with that assessment but with a key twist: “We must embrace the commitment to improve the entire transportation infrastructure network [and] more money is certainly important. But we must clearly articulate what we will achieve with those resources.”

He added that it is “on us to make them understand the benefits” of increased infrastructure investment.

Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association, described that view this way: “If you go to the dance, you have to dance.”

He added that “it is an amazing time in the sense that everyone is talking infrastructure, where there is this appetite for action.” To that end, Skoutelas said “we must make sure we are ready to act” when an infrastructure package is unveiled.

“We know things can turn on a dime so we need to be ready, be engaged. Our position is: tell the story about infrastructure. We think the justification speaks for itself but, but we need to remind people about the benefits of it. And our recent survey suggests the American people are ready for greater infrastructure investment, with improved mobility a big reason for it.”

AASHTO’s Tymon said that not only is “data out there showing public support” for more infrastructure funding, there is data showing that legislators won’t suffer repercussions if they support increased funding.

“We need to let them [Congressional members] know there is safety in transportation from a vote standpoint. Many states increased revenue for transportation – over 30 in the last five years – and regardless of whether it was a ‘red’ state [majority Republican] or ‘blue’ state [majority Democrat], no one lost their seat. We need to let them know transportation is a bipartisan issue and that your constituents will support you for raising funding for it.”

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Trump aides reportedly downplaying idea of increase in gas tax for infrastructure

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., surrounded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats, talks with reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump about infrastructure at the White House last month. (Associated Press: EVAN VUCCI)

WASHINGTON — It’s looking more and more likely you’ll need a pair of double — no, triple-strength binoculars to locate even a glimmering hope that there will be a viable infrastructure bill this anytime soon.

Sure, President Donald Trump and the Democrats met recently and agreed on the need for $2.2 trillion in infrastructure improvements, but as usual, there was no talk about from whence the money would come.

And now, it appears that the best way to fund the Highway Trust Fund — at least in the eyes of the trucking industry — is being quashed by the White House.

POLITICO reported over the weekend that the White House has been reassuring conservative leaders that it has no plans to hike the gas and diesel tax to help fund the massive infrastructure package that President Donald Trump hopes to negotiate with Congress.

POLITICO reported that both acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought, Trump’s budget director, have repeatedly downplayed the possibility in private meetings with fiscal conservatives who are expressing alarm that Trump might embrace a massive tax increase. Concerns have specifically centered around a potential gas tax boost, an idea that Trump has flirted with during his presidency.

“It is my understanding that they are not going to be agreeing to any tax increases,” said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist in an interview with POLITICO. Norquist said he has discussed the matter with White House officials in recent days, but did not disclose specifics. He was spotted at the White House on Friday, where he attended a meeting with Vought in which conservative leaders discussed upcoming spending battles, according to two attendees.

One long-simmering rumor that took off after the Trump-Democrats meeting was that Trump might endorse an increase in the gas tax to help fund the infrastructure package. It’s a prospect that deeply unsettles conservatives and some administration officials, who oppose any tax increase to pay for the projects.

Both the American Trucking Associations and the Truckload Carriers Association have publicly said they believe a gas tax increase is the best way to fund infrastructure improvements.

 

 

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