Editor’s note: Debate over how much big trucks should pay for their heavy use of the highways has been going on for at least fifty years, as looking back to the 1952 Truck Tax initiative on the Oregon ballot reminds us. My father was a big proponent of increasing the tax on the long haul behemoths as the state Legislature had done, under the guidance of his friend State Sen. Elmo Smith, a Republican then from John Day, Oregon, and former mayor of Ontario. (Elmo was also the former publisher of the Eastern Oregon Observer, which was combined into the Argus five years earlier.) Anyway, here is the argument as Dad presented it in his front page column before the election. And this time I can tell you how it came out, because he wrote about it in a post-election column I happen to have at hand.
The Argus Observes
By Don Lynch
From an October 1952 issue of the Ontario Argus-Observer
This (truck tax) initiative measure is most important in its effect on the economy and welfare of the state.
The 1951 Legislature believing that the trucks weren’t paying their full share of the cost of building and maintaining highways, boosted the weight-mile tax with the heaviest increase falling on long-haul truckers.
The Legislature and the State Highway Commission figured that trucks now pay about 29 percent of highway costs, but they should pay about 33 percent. This bill is intended to make trucks pay their fair share of road costs.
The long haul truckers, who claim they already pay more than their share of the road costs, got the bill referred to the people.
This bill is the product of a tremendous detailed study by the Legislature, and tremendously hard work in getting I passed over the opposition of the powerful truck lobby. It represents a great forward stride in Oregon highway financing, and to my mind it is perfectly fair and equitable.
It is the key bill in a whole system of highway taxation carefully designated by the state’s best experts.
This valuable work of the Legislature is supported by the Highway Commission, the state grange, all of the state’s newspapers, the Portland City club, and virtually all of the organizations qualified to judge its merits.
The big trucks simply are trying to dodge a tax that really nails them down to paying according to their heavy use of roads. Many smaller truckers such as Clarence Vogt in Ontario, favor the legislative program because under it they pay only according to their less extensive use of the roads. It is a fair tax.
It is most important that you support the Legislature by voting 318X Yes in favor of this measure.
(Editor’s note 2 – The truck tax measure passed, keeping the tax intact, and Dad wrote that it was an important victory justifying Smith’s tireless efforts on the Legislature as well as the newspaper support that the measure drew. Here is an excerpt from that November 1952 column, which talks about this pride in the efforts of the state’s nespapers.)
The result seem almost like a personal victory for many editors who sometimes wonder if their editorial voice is heard at all in the hubbub of movies, radio, comics and against all the competition of the livelier columns of general news in their own papers. This time editors could be certain much of what they said hit the target.
The Oregon State Motor Association believes that newspapers were instrumental in saving the state’s truck tax program and along with it the highway program.
I received a letter from Ray Conway, the association manager, thanking me for the state taken by the Argus-Observer and saying in part:
“…The discrimination (voters) showed at the polls is due to the n newspapers of the state who clarified the issue so well that the voters were able to understand our meager advertising and were not confused by the more elaborate arguments of the opposition.”
Perhaps Conway overestimated the effect of the newspaper’s work but this is one instance all right in which the newspapers certainly were influential in a genuine public service.