They tax truckers to death and then tax us more

Phil Madsen | February 25, 2012

I learned today more about as valorem tax. Learned when Diane researched it more after trucker friends called to ask us about it.

Diane and I woke up this morning in our Florida vacation house where we have been since early January. We will be back on the road soon.

We were in the house when our friend called around 8:00 p.m. I was sitting at my desk in my office using my computer. Diane was sitting at the dining room table using her computer. Our friends were sitting in their truck stranded in a snow storm in Wyoming, waiting probably overnight for the freeway to re-open so they can get rolling again and make their delivery.

Like us, our friends changed carriers last year. Ad valorem was a new term to us when we saw our new carrier’s statements. It was new to our friends too. Either our former carrier paid it on our behalf (unlikely) or they bundled it into a more general category and passed the tax on to us that way.

Ad valorem is Latin for “according to value.” In our business, it is a mechanism used by some states to pick trucker pockets as they drive through. Fuel taxes, other taxes, fees, tolls and permit costs that truckers pay to each state they drive through are not enough. Certain states grab more in the form of ad valorem tax.

I have yet to meet a trucker who does not agree that trucks should pay some taxes in return for using the public highway system on which we drive. That’s the idea behind fuel tax. But the problem is that politicians cannot leave a pot of money alone. They have looted the highway trust funds into which fuel tax money goes. Politicians also cannot leave an income stream alone. If 100 percent of the fuel tax money collected actually flowed into the highway funding, our roads would be in better shape today. But that’s not what happens. After the fuel tax cash started to flow, politicians passed laws diverting part of it to other projects and programs.

Consequently, people in state and federal capitols nationwide are looking at trucks to figure out how they can tax more money out of them. The highways need repair, trucks should pay, goes the reasoning. It’s convenient to overlook the fact that we already pay but the money gets spent on things other than the roads.

Consequently for you, transportation costs are higher. Be it a book that comes to you from an online supplier or those 40 lbs. bags of salt that are delivered to the store by the truckload and you use in your water softener, your costs are higher.

Every time Diane and I get slapped with a new tax, toll, fee, permit cost or higher price to register our truck, we build that cost into the price per mile we charge to haul your freight. Our price varies by region. Where the taxes are higher, our price is higher. Truckers who don’t maintain that kind of price discipline get squeezed out of the business.

Back to our friends and the other truckers who are stranded in a Wyoming snowstorm as I write this, they haul your freight too. I have mentioned it before and am prompted by our friends’ circumstances to mention it again. Almost everything you eat, drink, touch or use comes to you by truck. It’s not always easy for the men and women who drive these trucks but they get the job done.

Someone once said to me, “Thank you for the good work you do every day.” It was one of those rare times when someone thanked a trucker. It was unexpected. It surprised and confused me. It is something I will never forget.

If you are not a trucker, think about saying those words to the next trucker you meet.