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The Failure of the Illinois General Assembly

On June 30, 2016, the State of Illinois failed the trucking industry. While there is no doubt the stop-gap budget deal was the highest priority, the political clamoring of the last two years failed to bring to the floor a vote on a bill which would have protected carriers from a debilitating surcharge increase. This article is not political posturing, but rather a real-time example of long-held prejudices against the economic backbone of Illinois. Trucking is not a crime, and it is surely not a bank.

Recent events nationally involving police use of force has created a dialogue for police body cameras. In 2015, the elected leadership of Illinois decided this was a priority and created a funding mechanism. Deceptively sold to the people as a “$5 increase on traffic tickets”, in reality it is an exponential $5 increase on the surcharge multiplier for traffic tickets. Public Act 99-352 was effective January 1, 2016.

The truth is a motorist receiving a $120 traffic ticket does not see a fine increase at all. Prior to the new law, the surcharge was baked into the $120 fine at $10 per $40 of fine. In other words, the $30 of statutory surcharge was backed out from the $120. With this new law (and subsequent increase to $15 per $40 of fine), $45 is now backed out from the $120. Thanks to the new sign & drive law, the motorist exits the police encounter with a signature promising to pay, and actually pays nothing more than before out of his pocket.

The exact opposite is true with overweight truck tickets in Illinois. By Supreme Court Rule 526(b)(1), the cash bail must be collected inclusive of “fine fixed by statute, plus penalties and costs”. Because statutory overweights fines increase based on the amount of excess weight, the surcharge multiplier increase as well. This exponential figure must be posted before the driver can be released.

No sign & drive. No simple $120 maximum fine. No increased surcharges backed out from the fines.

Those who sold this legislation to the people as a funding mechanism for police body cameras left out this little tidbit of information. Or maybe they honestly did not how this affected the trucking industry. Regardless, the trucking industry fought back. Not because they objected to paying their fair share to help fund police body cameras, but because they objected to paying a disproportionate share.

In response, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (to whom all the proceeds from the $5 increase are diverted) challenged the trucker’s arguments of a disproportionate share in the surcharge. They even released a hastily assembled study claiming proof the truckers were not paying a disproportionate share.

If read critically, this study clearly showed a lack of uniform surcharge collection and disbursement between the 102 counties in Illinois. No one knows how much money is truly being collected and transmitted to the ILETSB. This is a completely different failure of government which should be remedied before any new revenues are collected against any motorist.

But it doesn’t matter to the truck driver or company paying out the cost on the front-end of enforcement. He’s still out the money at roadside whether or not his exponential increase is appropriated according to statute.

Let this point be made: no one is saying the best police training should go unfunded. Of course it should. In a day when the credibility of law enforcement is hanging by a weak thread, sewn by sensationalist news media and idiotic social networking commentary, the police need all the help they can get.

The question is not the necessity for quality training, the question is how to fund it.

Fast forward to June 30, 2016, and HB3126 was not called to the floor to fix this problem. This bill, initiated by the Mid-west Truckers Association (MTA), seeks to establish a $15 flat surcharge increase added to overweight citations for the first 3000 pounds overweight. This means the truckers would only have had to pay $15 per overweight, just like the speeders and stop sign violators with their $120 fine. The old $10 multiplier would still be calculated for all excess weight north of 3000 pounds.

Not surprisingly, those on the police training side of the coin (pun intended) are fighting back.

Why? Because they realize if this bill was successful, the cash cow of money collected on the backs of the truckers would be put out to pasture. Don’t forget, this is the same cash cow they said a year ago did not exist.

Prior to the June 30th failure of the elected leadership of Illinois, a large state-funded police training organization blasted an email to all of its members asking for support in their opposition to the bill. This email included a template letter for correspondence to high ranking politicians.

The content of this template letter sent on June 17th, and its incendiary language, is what drives this commentary.

First, it stated the MTA is campaigning on a “special exemption for the truckers at the expense of public safety”. This could not be further from the truth. What MTA is campaigning against is paying a disproportionate amount of money collected from their members and industry at large. Why isn’t the railroad, taxi/limo/Uber/bus, boating and airline industries being taxed for their wrongs to support police body cameras? Are they not transportation also? Do they not break laws?

On the contrary, MTA has been nothing but supportive of police training, particularly truck enforcement training taught by the ITEA. That’s right – they fully support training which teaches police officers how to write tickets in the tens of thousands of dollars and holds their members accountable for doing so lawfully.

Why? Because MTA understands the necessity of quality police, and more importantly, police training which teaches fair and reasonable enforcement methods which balances the need for public safety and a profitable trucking industry.

Second, the letter states MTA is undermining the work of the General Assembly before an “impact analysis can be performed”?

Really? Was there an impact analysis done on the destructive effects to trucking industry before the new surcharge law was passed in 2015? During the political jousting last year, the ILETSB released the aforementioned study which showed it would have minimal effect on the trucking industry. Yet here they are now saying the overweight surcharge funds are vital. Which is it?

Is the political process taken by MTA “undermining” or is that just politics? Love it or hate it, that is how the game is played in Springfield. It seems everyone who has something to lose with any given piece of legislation fights back using the twists and turns of the political landscape. It’s deceiving to call it “undermining”.

Where did this viewpoint, which believes the trucking industry has unlimited deep pockets, originate? No one is saying trucks should be allowed to run willy-nilly, without enforcement or penalties. Trucking is not a crime, yet when truckers do break the law, they are penalized higher than any other transportation industry.

Are the revenues created by statutory overweight fines not enough for this industry to pay? When does the taxation end for carriers? The ITEA challenges any “anti-truck” person to prove the industry is not already paying more than their fair share of regulatory fees for authority, registration, fuel tax, permits and the commercial distribution fee. It’s a mind-boggling quagmire unique only to the trucking side of the transportation industry.

Police departments today are using asset forfeiture and property seizure laws to generate mass amounts of money from those who deal and use narcotics illegally. The illicit drug industry, unlike trucking, is illegal. Why aren’t dollars seized by police departments being taxed by the ILETSB to fund police body cameras?

The truckers aren’t destroying Illinois, the politicians are. There’s other ways for the ILETSB to generate revenue during this governance failure of our elected officials. It’s a shame to see a state agency like the ILETSB, which was designed to bring credibility to Illinois law enforcement, so focused on increasing costs to an industry vital to what’s left of the ragged economy of Illinois.

They can do better, and if they cannot, hopefully the fall veto session will set the record straight.

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