Original jurisdiction in the case of American Trucking Associations, Inc., Tri-State Motor Transit Company, Interstate Van Lines, Inc., Interstate Truck Leasing, Inc. and Astro Container Company, individually and on behalf of a class of interstate motor carriers similarly situated v. Robert K. Bloom, Secretary of the Department of Revenue of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Daniel F. Dunn, Commissioner of the State Police of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Arthur R. Littleton, with him, Mark P. Pazuhanich, of counsel, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, for petitioners.
Maura A. Johnston, Deputy Attorney General, with her, Allen C. Warshaw, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Chief, Litigation Section, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for respondents.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Rogers, Williams, Jr., Craig, MacPhail, Doyle and Barry. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr. President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judge Barry dissent.
[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 380]
American Trucking Associations, Inc. and four foreign-based trucking companies (Petitioners) challenge the constitutionality and seek to enjoin the enforcement of Section 9902 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 9902, which exacts a maximum, annual tax of $36.00 per axle on every motor carrier vehicle, beyond a certain weight, that travels in the Commonwealth. In this class action Petitioners also request the refunding to class members of taxes paid for tax years beginning April 1, 1983.*fn1 The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 381]
Section 3 of the Act of December 8, 1982, P.L. 842, No. 234 (Act 234), amended the Vehicle Code by adding a chapter entitled "Axle Tax for Highway Bridge Improvement" (Axle Tax). See 75 Pa. C.S. §§ 9901-09. The Axle Tax, with an effective date of April 1, 1983, imposes annually a $36.00 per axle assessment "on every truck, truck tractor or combination having a gross weight or registered gross weight in excess of 26,000 pounds" that travels at least 2000 miles annually in Pennsylvania.*fn2 See 75 Pa. C.S. §§ 9902 and 9905. Axle Tax revenue funds highway bridge rehabilitation, replacement and removal projects, 75 Pa. C.S. § 9908, and is targeted for job-creation and the rehiring of the Commonwealth's unemployed, 75 Pa. C.S. § 9907(b).
Section 3 of Act 234 assessed a maximum tax of $36.00 per axle against both foreign-registered and Pennsylvania-registered motor carrier vehicles that travel in the Commonwealth and have a gross or registered gross weight greater than 26,000 pounds. Section 1 of Act 234, however, simultaneously amended Section 1916(a) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1916(a), and, beginning with the weight class upon which the Axle Tax is first imposed (viz, 26,001-30,000 pounds), reduced the annual, Pennsylvania truck registration fees in multiples of $36.00.
The incremental $36.00 registration fee reductions roughly correspond to the number of axles legally required for vehicles of various weights. Permissible maximum gross weights for two-axle, three-axle and four-axle trucks are 38,000 pounds, 58,400 pounds and 73,280 pounds, respectively. See 75 Pa. C.S. § 4941(c). Vehicles registered with maximum gross or combination
[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 382]
weights of 26,001-40,000 pounds, 40,001-60,000 pounds, 60,001-73,280 pounds and 73,281-80,000 pounds, sustained registration fee reductions in amounts of $72.00, $108.00, $144.00 and $180.00, respectively. Registration fee reductions generally offset the tax owed based on the number of axles ordinarily required of vehicles within each affected weight class.*fn3
While Section 3 of Act 234 assesses an Axle Tax against all designated vehicles operating in Pennsylvania, Section 1 of Act 234, by authorizing comparable registration fee reductions, negates or mitigates the financial impact of the Axle Tax on Pennsylvania-registered vehicles. Petitioners therefore argue that the combined effect of Sections 1 and 3 of Act 234, which vitiates the Axle Tax's financial effect on locally registered trucks, discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of ...