The President released his proposed federal budget for the 2021 fiscal year on February 10. The proposal titled “A Budget for America’s Future” has allocated $1 trillion of its $4.8 trillion total budget to infrastructure, and a great deal of that should positively impact the trucking industry should it be approved.
$50 million is slated to go towards the Moving America Safely and Efficiently Program, which is described as intending to disburse money to programs aimed at opening up bottlenecks and “adding capacity, deploying effective technologies, and expanding truck parking infrastructure,” according to the budget request. This is good news for truckers, and it’s likely that this change along with others in the bill will help increase America’s highway capacity for truckers and increase overall freight efficiency. The budget requests more than $800 billion for a 10-year reauthorization of surface transport programs by the federal government, which effectively renews and bolsters the FAST Act of 2015— a $305 billion infrastructure bill that’s set to expire in 2020.
What Should We Expect to Change?
In general, it’s difficult to speculate on how much the average owner-operator is going to see in terms of change to their regular truck routes after 2020. For starters, the budget that the Trump Administration proposed isn’t yet set in stone. As with all presidential budget proposals, this document serves as a template for Congress to work from when constructing their own official budget. In a way, this proposal serves as a starting point when it comes to broaching budget changes to the American people, which can help members of Congress identify the sticking points of their constituents.
According to Jay Grimes who is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Director of Federal Affairs, there are certain aspects of the bill that the President may have proposed as a starting point for negotiation moving forwards. “I don’t think Congress is going to bite on doing a 10-year bill for $810 billion,” Grimes said. “I think the goal is trying to get a five-year new highway bill, which would match the FAST Act length. That’s probably going to be more realistic. The 10-year is a little pie-in-the-sky, I think.”
$810 billion would be a significant increase to infrastructure funding compared to previous legislation, and it’s likely to be a significant talking point when it comes to the final budget that Congress agrees on. The $50 million for Moving America Safely and Efficiently Program is slightly more likely to be brought into the official budget as-is, being a smaller portion of overall spending. There’s no mention as to where funding for the infrastructure changes will come from and whether economic growth alone will easily support the increase in spending levels.
Trucking in 2021 Compared to 2020
There’s been a greater level of national attention to the trucking industry, and that’s set to continue through 2020. Starting in September of 2019, a proportion of truckers became newly eligible for overtime pay, which is especially helpful for owner-operators at the bottom of the pay scale. The President’s pro-infrastructure budget comes at a time when he’s receiving backlash for disallowing the Department of Homeland Security from enrolling or re-enrolling New York residents in Global Entry, which impacts the truckers in the state who carried low-risk shipments across the Canadian and Mexican borders. This issue is still ongoing, and New York intends to sue the DHS over the policy. Trump issued an executive order on February 12 that calls for the protection of GPS services, which presents primarily as a security-based solution, but will again promote spending in the trucking industry. There were GPS disruptions in maritime shipping in the Mediterranean last year, which has prompted concern over such disruptions taking place on domestic soil— something that could cost billions according to a study by the Department of Commerce.
Overall, the budget proposal indicates a greater level of care for truck drivers in America, with more straightforward benefits than the policies that are shaping 2020. With the worries regarding California’s gig economy bill AB 5 finally diminishing in result of a judge’s ruling, and the DoT having overturned trucker-specific work regulations, it seems like truckers might finally get a break when it comes to adjusting to new regulations.
How Does New Infrastructure Affect Truck Drivers?
Semi-Truck driving is a growing industry according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there are billions of dollars invested in trucking logistics every year, meaning that there’s a lot of money to be made in terms of getting trucks to their destination as efficiently as possible. Infrastructure improvements can result in a reduction of traffic and hazard-based braking, which increases time efficiency and lowers the fuel cost for fixed-distance trips. Much of the Trump administration’s efforts have been devoted to shaping trade in America, with the hopes of increasing interstate trading. This will continually affect the traffic distribution of semi-trailer trucks across America, which means that certain infrastructure bottlenecks may become more noticeable as trade routes continue to be affected.
Truck parking is a relatively inexpensive infrastructure upgrade, and $50 million could go a long way in terms of increasing frequency of truck stops on an owner-operator’s route. This obviously contributes to an increased level of comfort and convenience for truck drivers across America, and freight companies might see the infrastructure changes as a green-light to expand. In general, the freight industry appears to be moving at an upswing, and there aren’t many indicators that the livelihoods of owner-operators won’t increase through 2021.