This was a big week in Massachusetts for the motor vehicle aftermarket. After months of wrangling, the state legislature finally passed a measure that will reconcile the two Right to Repair laws that were on the books in the state. Some may be asking, “Didn’t we already settle this issue back in 2012?” The answer is that while the people did vote overwhelmingly, 86-14 percent, to approve a Right to Repair law, that vote actually came after the legislature had already acted on Right to Repair legislation in July of that year. That bill was the result of an agreement reached at the last minute between the Massachusetts Right to Repair coalition, the vehicle manufacturers, and the new car dealers on Right to Repair. The result was two laws and the need to correct the issue, so that the people’s will for a competitive repair industry could be accomplished.
Like the ballot question, the bill enacted by the legislature ensures full access for the independent repair industry to all information, tools and software used by dealers to repair vehicles. The major differences include providing additional time for the manufacturers to comply with requirements that they make all of their diagnostic software available from a cloud using a standardized vehicle interface; different enforcement methodology; and the unfortunate exclusion of motorcycles and heavy duty vehicles from the bill (an action that the legislature took during consideration of the bill).
The final reconciliation bill that recently passed the legislature looks much like the bill that already passed the legislature, with the exception to the fact that heavy duty vehicles were added back into the bill due to the strong lobbying by the heavy duty aftermarket. The bill now goes to the governor, who has 10 days to sign it.
So with this battle nearing completion, what is next for Right to Repair? Working with the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE), AAIA has been meeting with the manufacturers in an attempt to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would implement the Massachusetts model around the country. Car companies have been reluctant to sign the document until work on the reconciliation measure was complete in the commonwealth. With that action nearly complete, AAIA and CARE would like an MOU approved as soon as possible so that car owners around the nation can benefit from the action in Massachusetts. Should that action not occur, AAIA is committed to moving state by state, to make sure all consumers have access to a competitive vehicle repair market. However, if we can achieve nationwide implementation of the Massachusetts bill without the cost and time of going through a state by state effort, this seems like the best course.
For now, we are focusing on encouraging the governor to sign the bill. After that, the ball will be in the car companies’ court as to whether we move forward together on implementing Right to Repair or the battles goes on the road to state capitals around the country. Let’s hope they choose the former.
The recent government shutdown gave heavy-hitting trade association executives, along with former and current politicians, the opportunity to publicly admonish the current state of national politics, but some key government officials and industry groups took the time to shine the spotlight on what many in Washington, D.C. see as the next crucial step for Congress to take, properly funding the national transportation program.
On Oct. 21, Governor Bill Graves, now president of the American Trucking Association (ATA), told members at their annual meeting that recent political blockages were, “foolish, ill-advised, reckless and detrimental,” adding in a separate interview that, “our number-one issue is getting a package of infrastructure investment." Data shows that trucks carried 39 percent of all U.S. freight ton mileage, giving the ATA strong reasons for wanting a robust transportation program.
In 2012, Congress passed a national transportation bill that only funded the highway programs through fiscal year 2014. While that bill kept the U.S. Department of Transportation from shutting down entirely, the secretary at the time, Ray LaHood, recently called that bill “chintzy” and added, “The business community is fed up with the inaction of Congress when it comes to infrastructure. The business community knows that America has fallen way, way behind. There's a long, long list of bridges that need to be replaced or repaired. There's a long, long list of roads that need to be fixed up."
Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that will craft most of the next national infrastructure bill, is aware of the need for more and stable funding, but is also not blind to the political gauntlet he must face with such polarizing viewpoints present in Congress. Speaking on recent passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, Shuster commented on the next transportation bill, stating, “It’s going to be tougher than this bill, but we’ve got to figure out how to move forward on that.”
There are several forces working against a smooth process for a transportation authorization bill. First, the vast divide that exists between the ideologies of Republicans and Democrats in present day Washington, D.C. keeps most members of Congress from being able to coalesce around a common breakfast order, let alone a package of varied funding solutions that needs to generate an estimated $550 billion per year to cover what experts say are our real infrastructure needs.
Second, it is no secret that there is a break in the Republican Party. The economic downturn created massive changes in Congress through stunning election results and the introduction of Tea Party-backed legislators. This puts Chairman Shuster in the position of needing to convince anti-spending conservatives within his own party that infrastructure is the one thing on which they need to find a way to spend money.
Third, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats and the House by the Republicans. This means having to merge two bills together in a conference that will more-than-likely approach transportation funding solutions using similar concepts, but having critical implementation differences. These differences could turn out to be non-starter negotiation points for either side. Several examples of these bipartisan congressional working groups coming together only to fail have come out of the recent budget and sequestration battles.
Fourth, no one from either political party in either chamber of Congress is willing to publicly say they support raising the federal gas tax. Everyone knows it needs to be done, but no one wants to be the elected official that raised taxes on struggling Americans and U.S. businesses in a still down economy. And who can blame them? Further, there are other issues to be piled on top of just these four so the pressures on legislators to work through these impediments are immense.
As the debate heats up in 2014, aftermarket businesses should stay connected to what is being said as far as transportation is concerned. Most members of Congress have not decided on what they believe is a final funding solution for repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and therefore are open to hearing the views of key stakeholders and their constituents on the subject. Stay tuned to the Capital Report and other AAIA publications to follow this important issue.