Truck convoy protests fuel prices

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 8:54 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 8:54 a.m.

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Scores of truckers took to the highways and streets around the Capitol on Monday and blasted their horns to protest rising fuel prices.

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A convoy of truckers head to the Capitol on Interstate 81 Monday, March 31, 2008. Scores of truckers took to the highways and streets around the Capitol and blasted their horns to protest rising fuel prices.

Christine Baker/The Patriot-News/The Associated P

As the protest convoy circled the block, about 100 people gathered on the Capitol steps to urge state lawmakers and Gov. Ed Rendell to eliminate Pennsylvania's highest-in-the-nation diesel fuel tax of 38.1 cents per gallon.

Consumers also pay state taxes of 32.3 cents per gallon on gasoline, 11th highest in the nation.

"All the state taxes and the federal tax must come off of fuel," said Mark Kirsch, an independent truck driver from Myerstown who organized the protest. "We're going to take our country back."

Truckers around the country have been talking about a protest or strike as high diesel prices and low freight rates have pushed an increasing number of truckers into bankruptcy. Reposessor Nassau Asset Management repossessed 110 percent more trucks in 2007 than it did in 2006, according to president Edward Castagna.

Fuel prices in Pennsylvania averaged $3.28 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline and $4.33 a gallon for diesel on Monday, compared with $2.70 for regular unleaded and $2.84 for diesel a year ago.

Federal fuel taxes amount to 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel.

While lawmakers and state policymakers have opposed increasing fuel taxes to raise additional money for road and bridge repairs, eliminating them isn't the solution, said Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

"There's no guarantee that such a cut would be passed along to consumers at the pump," Kirkpatrick said. "Obviously, fuel prices are a worldwide concern. The decisions on the setting of those prices are not made in Harrisburg."

Combined revenue from the gasoline tax and the diesel tax amounted to nearly $1.3 billion in the 2006-07 fiscal year, Kirkpatrick said.

The rates for both taxes have remained stable since 2006, said Revenue Department spokeswoman Stephanie Weyant.

But truckers are also frustrated with other costs of doing business, such as registration fees and fines for inspection violations, said Ken Dudley, 54, a truck driver from Duncannon.

"Our roads are in such bad condition," Dudley said. "Where's all the money going?"

Lawmakers passed a measure last year to raise money for roads, bridges and mass transit, partly by adding tolls to Interstate 80.

Residents of communities along the east-west highway have opposed to the idea, and the Rendell administration is exploring the possible lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike as an alternative revenue source.

Kirsch favors neither option.

"You're not going to lease the turnpike, and you're not going to toll I-80," he said.

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