ATA: safety first, keep highway funding with feds

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ATA President and CEO Bill Graves (ATA Photo)

A reorganized American Trucking Associations (ATA) is recommitted to being known as a “safety-first organization,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves emphasized in his annual “State of the Industry” address Monday at the organization’s annual Management Conference and Exhibition.

“Everything we do, or try to do, on Capitol Hill somehow or another revolves around the issue of safety. This is not just a recommitment to safety, but an elevated game plan designed to make the entire trucking industry safer,” Graves said. “It’s the right thing to do and our failure to do so will leave us continually playing defense on every other policy and regulatory issue that confronts the industry.”

The organization will be selective in which safety proposals it chooses to support, Graves added, and will focus only on those that “truly work.”

He pointed to ATA’s work in persuading a Senate committee to pass legislation to reconsider the restart provisions of the hours-of-service rule as an example of the new “holistic” approach to the safety agenda and “a great template for our future efforts.”

The ATA efforts, however, must overcome “a challenging Congressional environment, an oftentimes unsupportive administration and an unpredictable court system,” Graves added.

“While it’s been a tremendous frustration that Congress failed to act on the Appropriations bill that had our corrective language in it, we are very well positioned for the relief we seek whenever Congress gets back to doing business,” he said. “It certainly didn’t hurt that we were right on the issue.”

In once again emphasizing the importance of a modern transportation infrastructure to the trucking industry and American economic competitiveness, Graves rejected the notion of “devolution,” or ceding federal control of infrastructure funding and planning to the states.

“Devolution is simply code for ‘passing the buck,’ or in this case passing the responsibility for raising a buck to someone else,” Graves said. “Anyone who thinks there’s a difference in the dollar you pay in taxes to your state government versus the dollar you pay to the federal government is going to be terribly disappointed when I tell them that federal infrastructure investment is not an optional choice.”

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He called on President Obama “to show us he’s really interested in solving this problem and not just slow walking it through to the end of his administration.”

While congressional efforts to improve highway safety and the nation’s infrastructure are the focus of many ATA efforts, Graves said the industry was also threatened by the specter of overregulation by the federal government.

Indeed, “what challenges our industry is not the Congress,” Graves said. “What challenges our industry, for at least the next two years, is the power of the president and his administration to mis-regulate our industry.

“Regulations, per se, are not bad; in fact there are a number of things we think the government should do to make the trucking industry safer and more productive.”

Graves, who has been ATA president and CEO since 2003 after serving two terms as governor of Kansas, has reached an agreement on a contract extension with ATA, federation Chairman Phil Byrd announced Monday.

“Under Gov. Graves’ leadership, ATA has undertaken a number of initiatives to position the association as the leader in advocacy on behalf of trucking and transportation,” Byrd said. “We are thrilled that he will remain as the face of our advocacy in Washington for the foreseeable future.”