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Industry Hails UCR Board Vote to Delay Collection of 2010 Fees
Monday, 22 March 2010 00:00

Industry groups and some state governments hailed the decision blocking all states from collecting Unified Carrier Registration fees until the federal government sets fee levels for 2010, but other states said the move could hamstring their safety programs.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration earlier this month said that states could begin collecting 2010 fees based on 2009 levels, because the assessment for this year has not been set.

But the board that oversees the UCR program approved a resolution March 11 that said “states are prohibited from assessing and collecting fees for the 2010 UCR registration year until FMCSA publishes the fee structure in a final rule for 2010 or until further direction from the board.”

“I think it’s positive,” said Bob Pitcher, vice president of state laws for American Trucking Associations. If the UCR board hadn’t taken “strong” action or had encouraged states to make two collections for 2010, “the program would tend to dissolve into chaos,” he said.

The board did not set penalties for states that do move ahead to collect the fees. Avelino Gutierrez, board chairman and staff counsel for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, said that the board doesn’t “want to threaten states at this point.”

“I think its best if we tell them what the policy of the board is, and make it in the strongest terms possible,” Gutierrez said.

He said that he believed the board had “superintending authority” over the UCR program and subsequently “has the authority to impose limitations on when the program begins in any registration year.”

Earlier this month, FMCSA said that while the White House is reviewing 2010 fees, states may collect fees at the 2009 level if they take trailers out of their fleet-size calculations.

Bill Leonard, director of motor compliance for the New York Department of Transportation, said that if states collected the 2009 fees, they would have to make a second 2010 collection later. “We anticipate that we could collect somewhere around $40 million to $45 million,” but would need to issue a second round of bills after the final rule is issued to make up the difference between the old fees and the new ones.

UCR is intended to collect about $100 million for states to use for safety enforcement.

UCR collects flat fees from fleets based on their fleet size. Last year, FMCSA proposed doubling those fees in 2010 to account for a legislative change removing trailers from determining the fleet size count, and for what it said was chronic under-collection of fees.

Frank Laqua, a member of the UCR board and administrator of motor carrier services for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said he thought it would be “a bad precedent to go back to our carriers twice for 2010 fees and then hit them with 2011 shortly after that, and I just think that would be very confusing to the carriers.”

Leonard of New York said he could “envision . . . sending three billings to the industry three months apart, and I think that would be very confusing and onerous to the industry to hear from us so quickly.”

But by delaying collections until FMCSA sets the 2010 level, the UCR board was “limiting state options and potentially placing a large number of people at safety risk for the states that use that money to fund their safety programs,” said Alan Martin, deputy director of transportation at Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

“I think we’ve already caused a great deal of confusion in the industry,” Martin said. “We’ve had to return a large number of application forms and checks from small carriers that have no idea what’s going on right now and they’re used to a system where they are supposed to have renewed by Dec. 31.”

Forty-one states participate in UCR, with many using the funds for commercial vehicle safety programs.

Tim Davis with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities said the decision is “basically going to put some safety programs out of business by allowing [the collection of fees] to wait until a final rule is made.”

In arguing for the dual collections, Davis said Massachusetts would “take half a loaf in this instead of nothing.”

FMCSA spokeswoman Candice Tolliver said in a statement that the agency’s guidance allowing the collection of 2010 fees “provides our state partners with the option of collecting fees that help to fund critical motor carrier safety and enforcement programs while a new UCR final rule is being developed.”

That final rule is expected to be under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget until later this summer, Pitcher said.

Tolliver said the agency “expects to issue a final rule this year,” and a monthly DOT report on rules shows the target publication date for the rule is June 18.

Pitcher cautioned that it could take longer than that.

Transport Topics, 3/22/2010