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Michigan House speaker says taxes at pump should fund roads

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Michigan is among a small number of states to apply the sales tax to motor fuel — a factor in why its gas taxes were sixth-highest in the U.S. as of July, according to the Tax Foundation. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

LANSING, Mich. — New Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield said Michigan will always struggle to fund roadwork until it solves the root problem — drivers pay some of the country’s highest taxes at the pump, but not all of the revenue goes to the transportation budget.

That factor, more than any other, is hampering Michigan’s ability to adequately upgrade roads, he said. Chatfield is leading majority House Republicans who will be critical to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pending push to inject more spending into roads and bridges.

“The fact is, we’ve done bonding in the past and we’re still paying for it. We’ve raised taxes in the past, and our roads are still crumbling,” he told the Associated Press in a recent interview. “We have got to change how we pay for the roads at the pump, and we need to ensure that every single penny paid at the pump is a penny that goes to the roads.”

Chatfield’s focus on taxes assessed at the pump is not new. A 2015 ballot initiative proposed by lawmakers — and soundly rejected by voters — would have doubled per-gallon fuel taxes but eliminated the sales tax on gasoline and diesel to ensure that all taxes at the pump went to transportation.

It was a complicated, multi-faceted proposal that also would have increased the sales tax while boosting spending on education and local governments. GOP legislators and former Gov. Rick Snyder later raised fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees to increase road funding, but the plan has been faulted as inadequate.

Chatfield wants to revisit taxes at the pump. Michigan is among a small number of states to apply the sales tax to motor fuel — a factor in why its gas taxes were sixth-highest in the U.S. as of July, according to the Tax Foundation. The sales tax revenue mostly goes to schools and local governments under the state constitution.

Asked about the potential impact on schools, Chatfield said boosting roads should not come at their expense.

“Let me be very clear: We will not turn back the clock on education funding in this state,” he said.

Removing the sales tax on fuel would require a statewide vote. Another option could be to keep it intact and shift an equivalent from elsewhere in the budget to roads — an approach that already is squeezing the general fund under 2015 road-funding laws. Chatfield said fixing the roads is a priority not just for Whitmer, who campaigned on it, but also lawmakers and residents.

“They made that clear in November,” he said.

Chatfield, 30, is believed to be the youngest House speaker in more than a century, though having speakers who are in their 30s is commonplace in the term limits era.

He graduated from Northland International University, a Baptist college in Wisconsin, and obtained a master’s degree from Liberty University in Virginia. Before winning election to the House in 2014, he was a teacher, coach and athletic director at a Christian school in northern Michigan that was run by his minister father.

Factors in the conservative Chatfield’s victory were his criticism of his Republican primary opponent for introducing a bill to expand the state’s civil rights law to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people and helping to expand Medicaid.

“It was my obligation to either get involved or stop complaining,” said Chatfield, of Levering, which is about 10 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge. “I think the American spirit is one which encourages involvement, and then having children really impressed upon me the responsibility I had to fight for the values I believed in.”

Last year, Chatfield was the lead sponsor of a law that wiped clear outstanding state driver “responsibility” fees for hundreds of thousands of motorists. He unsuccessfully pushed for a state income tax cut in 2017.

He will lead the chamber the next two years before reaching his maximum time in the House. He has emphasized bipartisan cooperation with Democrats while quickly putting his stamp on how legislative business is to be conducted. Many bills will now go before two House committees instead of one before moving to the floor.

“Unfortunately, in the era of term limits we don’t have the opportunity to serve 10 to 20 years and become experts in different fields,” Chatfield said. “I believe that more collaboration and more debate will be healthy for this chamber.”

Top goals, he said, include reducing the high cost of car insurance and changing the criminal justice system to help inmates succeed upon their release and to prevent overcriminalization. He also wants to expand government transparency by opening the Legislature and governor’s office to public-records requests.

“Though we’ll have disagreements, what will define us is our ability to come together and provide solutions,” he said.

 

 

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Freightwaves, CO.LAB introducing Freighttech Innovation Challenge for college students

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — FreightWaves and CO.LAB, a nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurial growth in southeast Tennessee, are cohosting the inaugural FreightTech Innovation Challenge: A 24-Hour Transportation and Logistics Use Case Competition on March 29-30, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

College students from across the U.S. will spend two days working to solve challenges facing the transportation and logistics industries with the chance to win cash prizes and find potential employers. The team that places first in the competition will receive $5,000, followed by $3,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place.

The event will take place at FreightWaves’ new office and event space, which officially opens this spring, which has been named “Freight Alley.” Representatives from leading companies in the industry, some of whom are sponsors of the event, will be on hand to network with students to mentor the teams while scouting for future talent.

“This is a chance for college students to not only win a prize, but to jump-start an exciting career in the freight tech sector,” said Craig Fuller, CEO and Founder of FreightWaves.

The collaboration between CO.LAB and FreightWaves is a pairing of FreightWaves’ expertise and its industry network with CO.LAB’s experience in developing fast-paced competitions that focus on building talent pipelines. CO.LAB has produced several versions of 48Hour Launch, a community-driven competition designed to produce business concepts or prototypes in one weekend, and it has cohosted 24Hour Generator with Chattanooga’s Girls Preparatory School, which brings together local female high school and middle school students to work on real business challenges.

“This collaboration with FreightWaves is an incredible opportunity to show the country’s upcoming talent what Chattanooga has to offer,” said Marcus Shaw, CEO of CO.LAB. “By the end of the event, we believe we will see students not only take away a great learning experience but also new relationships that can impact their career trajectory.”

Chattanooga, nicknamed “The Scenic City” due to its beauty and outdoor recreation, has in recent years become a new hub for startups and large companies, particularly in the transportation and logistics industries due to its location in relation to freight traffic  in the Southeast. Logistics contributes to more than 40 percent of the local economy, and 1.25 million of the region’s 37 million people are employed by the transportation sector. Of those, 230,000 are heavy-duty truck drivers.

“Chattanooga is the beating heart of Freight Alley, so I can’t think of a better place to bring together bright minds from across the country to help solve some of our industry’s most perplexing challenges,” Fuller said.

Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, spent a day touring Chattanooga’s startup community, which included a roundtable with leaders in the transportation and logistics industries.

“If you start a company there [in Chattanooga] to serve the trucking industry, you have more expertise about what the needs are, and more customers and partners there in Chattanooga as opposed to New York City, Boston and San Francisco,” Case said in an interview on PBS last fall.

Students interested in business, supply chain, technology, computer science, data and logistics can apply to . The deadline to apply is March 8.

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9 semis involved in accident on I-80 in Nebraska

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Of the 30 crashes reported to the Nebraska State Patrol Wednesday morning, the biggest took place near Aurora, Nebraska where 11 vehicles, nine of the big rigs, were involved in a large-scale accident on Interstate 80 (Courtesy: NEBRASKA STATE PATROL)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — At least three people were injured in a large-scale accident on Interstate 80 Wednesday morning that involved nine semi-trucks and two passenger vehicles, The Grand Island Independent reported Thursday.

The vehicles were involved in multiple crashes on I-80 between Giltner and Aurora.

The paper’s report said five vehicles took part in a chain-reaction crash and that because of the pileup, I-80 was closed to eastbound traffic for about three hours while emergency crews worked at the scene and cleared the road.

Weather conditions were a factor in the crashes.

The paper said that at about 9:10 a.m., Hamilton County received a 911 call that two semi-tractor/trailers had crashed and jackknifed, blocking eastbound traffic near mile marker 328. As troopers and officers were en route to the scene, additional vehicles became involved in a chain-reaction crash. The first crash scene involved four semis and one passenger vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee.

After the initial incident, a pair of semis that were traveling together came upon the scene and were unable to stop. One struck the other, pushing it into the Jeep Cherokee.

Both occupants of the Cherokee were transported to the hospital in Aurora, but the passenger, Jason Palmer, 29, of Indiana, was flown to Kearney with life-threatening injuries. The driver was evaluated and has been released from the hospital.

One of the semi drivers, Jeffrey Clark, 56, of Colorado, was also transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The paper reported that as traffic was stopped for the first crash scene, another semi jackknifed while attempting to avoid the stopped traffic. Moments later, another crash occurred a short distance to the west involving two more semis and a minivan. No injuries were reported in those crashes.

In total, there were nine semis and two passenger vehicles involved in the incidents near mile marker 328.

The State Patrol said within 24 hours after the storm began, troopers handled 166 motorist assists, responded to 30 crashes and assisted other agencies with 17 incidents. Motorist assists can include slide-offs, flat tires, etc.

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White House ends California talks on mileage standards

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Democratic Sen. Tom Carper said the Trump administration's negotiations with the State of California over fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards have been "superficial and not robust at best, or duplicitous and designed to fail at worst." (Courtesy: U.S. Senate)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration broke off vehicle mileage standards talks with California on Thursday, moving the two closer to a possible court battle that threatens to unsettle the auto industry.

The White House said in a statement that the administration, which wants to freeze mileage standards, would now move unilaterally to “finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles.”

California officials and the Trump administration each accused the other of failing to present any good compromise proposal in the mileage dispute, which comes as President Donald Trump feuds with the Democrat-led state over his proposed border wall and his threats to take back federal money.

The administration announced last year it wanted to freeze what would have been tougher, Obama-era mileage standards for cars and light trucks. It would be one of a series of rollbacks targeting Obama administration efforts against pollution and climate change.

Under the administration proposal, the standards would be frozen after slightly tougher 2020 levels go into effect, eliminating 10 miles per gallon of improvement to a fleet average of 36 miles per gallon in 2025.

As part of the proposed mileage freeze, the administration threatened to revoke California’s legal authority to set its own, tougher mileage standards, a waiver granted that state decades ago to help it deal with its punishing smog. About a dozen states follow California’s mileage standards.

Lawmakers and automakers have urged the two sides to settle, warning that a split could divide the auto market, bring years of court battles and raise costs for automakers.

“This administration’s negotiations with the State of California over fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards have been superficial and not robust at best, or duplicitous and designed to fail at worst,” Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement late Wednesday, as the formal negotiations breakdown loomed.

“Litigation is not the best option here. It wastes time, money, creates uncertainty for American automakers, and harms the environment,” Carper said.

California officials say the administration never offered any compromise and that it broke off any contacts around December.

“We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the state’s air board.

It’s the latest shot by the White House in its escalating feud with California. The Trump administration earlier in the week said it planned to cancel nearly $1 billion for California’s high-speed rail project and would seek the return of $2.5 billion more. Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was political retribution for the state’s role in leading a 16-state lawsuit against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to get funds for his proposed wall at the southern border.

Since it takes several years to design vehicles, automakers have been planning to meet higher mileage requirements under Obama-era standards, as well as those in other countries.

For now, “essentially the industry is ignoring what Trump wants to do,” auto-industry analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Navigant Research said. “We know at least until this thing gets settled in the courts, we have to deal with California and the other states and have product that can sell there as well as products that can sell overseas.”

 

 

 

 

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