Bills Coudl Make Big Impact on Trucking Industry

Article excerpt

A couple of bills are rolling through the Oklahoma Legislature that could significantly impact the Oklahoma trucking industry.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, removed the title of his House Bill 2147 this week, and got it through the full House on a reconsideration vote of 64-34. It was earlier rejected on a 49-49 tie vote.

The bill, co-authored by Sen. Herb Rozell, D-Tahlequah, would cause the $400,000 in annual funding for the Trucking Industry Self-funded Research and Development program to be an appropriated item, rather than a direct deposit into its revolving fund as it is now.

The second measure, Senate Bill 636 by Sens. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, Keith Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Jim Glover, D-Elgin, would establish a Trucking Commission to further the cause of Oklahoma becoming a trucking hub. Stipe is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Adair said the TISRAD money is raised from registration fees from trucks and trailers that has been collecting since 1987, when the program went into effect.

"Opponents say I'm attempting to remove this money and take the funding away. It's not true," he said.

Adair said it's time for some oversight on the program. Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren, who is chairman of the TISRAD committee, agrees that oversight is needed, but he's lukewarm to the idea of lawmakers considering the appropriation every year.

Adair said the program needs to be audited annually. He said sole-source research contracts should be forbidden, and that bids should be solicited from companies or firms that want to be involved in the research programs.

Language that would have required those things was contained in the original TISRAD legislation, but was removed in the state Senate, he said.

"I think what the lieutenant governor is asking is, that bids be taken, and give different companies that want to be involved an opportunity to bid," Adair said.

Mildren has requested audits from the program's inception in 1987 to present.

"If it had not been for that, there probably wouldn't have been an audit up to this point," Adair said. "I feel very strongly that we ought to have some accountability and oversight. That's not to say I'm making any accusations." In the past four years, the Safety, Education and Economic Development (SEED) Foundation of the Associated Motor Carriers of Oklahoma has conducted TISRAD research, subcontracting with the Western Highway Institute and other agencies to perform the work.

"In my opinion, it should be competitively bid," Mildren said.

He said the committee has worked on a mutual set of goals between the public and private sectors, and the TISRAD committee is about ready to bid out research projects in three areas: a tax research agenda, economic development, and other individual issues.

"We are going to insert the competitive bid process into this, which never has been done before," Mildren said. "We have spent $1.6 million in this program, but how many jobs have been created? I was surprised that's never been done." Mildren said the committee needs to come up with a mechanism for measuring income and employment. The increases in licensing in the state are tracked through base plating of trucks, he said, "but we've absolutely got to quantify what this program does for income and employment." To do research for research's sake is not productive, he said, "but to create a safer and more efficient transportation system should be one of our goals, and creation of jobs within the transportation industry. I think we can come up with a measuring stick." Mildren said he's all for increased supervision of the TISRAD program.

At the same time, "we will have to focus on going through the budget process and maintaining the right to that money, to go on with the research program," he said. …