(Jan. 6) After a year of bankruptcies, shortages and other troubles, the holidays brought more potentially bad news to the trucking industry.

A work stoppage in the Venezuelan state-run oil monopoly was blamed for a spike in oil prices the week of Dec. 23. On the heels of this, a pair of Republican congressional leaders began outlining a plan to raise fuel taxes by at least 12 cents per gallon over a six-year period.

On Dec. 2, Venezuelan oil workers went on strike in an effort to protest the administration of President Hugo Chavez, whom the workers blame for a recession in that country, among other things.

Chavez has threatened to fire and prosecute the workers. He already has fired four oil company executives and used soldiers to seize a fuel tanker whose crew joined in the strike.

MAJOR SUPPLIER TO U.S.

The Associated Press reported that Venezuela supplies about 14% of the oil in the U.S. The strike has virtually shut down the country. Oil exports in December were down to 2 million barrels from 3 million in November. The strike, along with fears of a war with Iraq, drove oil prices to their highest level in two years, up to $31 a barrel.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela is a member, has said it would not release more oil into the market to compensate for the losses until mid-January.

Diesel prices rose more than 5 cents the week of Dec. 30, up to $1.491 from $1.44 per gallon the week before, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., chairman of the Highways and Transit subcommittee, have proposed an increase in fuel taxes over the next six years.

The proposal would gradually raise fuel taxes by at least 12 cents. The representatives said the tax was needed to raise money for highway improvements that could not otherwise be paid for by the federal highway trust fund.

TIED TO INFLATION

The plan will increase both diesel and regular fuel taxes by 2 cents per gallon each year starting in the 2004 fiscal year. Increases also would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, meaning that if inflation goes up, then the tax increase could be more than 2 cents to compensate.

The American Trucking Associations, Alexandria, Va., objected to the proposal, claiming that the tax hike could cost the trucking industry nearly $1 billion in the first year alone.

Association president William Canary said in a statement that the trucking industry must oppose the changes in light of the business climate.

“Instead of adding financial pressure to an industry that is already facing tremendous challenges, we urge Congress to focus on collecting revenues owed to the highway trust fund and spend existing revenues where they are needed,” he said.