Editor’s Note: This is an editorial written by The Ithaca Voice.

As always, we are willing to publish alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To do so, contact me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

— Jeff Stein

Why I shop downtown — Marty

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Ithaca Voice editorial:

Ithaca, N.Y. — Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending measure that will ensure that the operations of the federal government keep running.

There’s not much else to commend about it. The budget contains a shocking number of giveaways to special interests — including tax breaks for healthcare companies, setbacks for school nutrition standards, and a Las Vegas tourism package favored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), according to The New York Times.

“Representative Marcy Kaptur … criticized the $1.1 trillion spending measure as ‘a Christmas tree bill,’ decorated with ‘dangerous and unwelcome, nongermane riders,’” The Times reported.

Of these many “riders,” one is particularly unwelcome for Ithacans: A provision that suspends two federal rest rules for truckers on the road. The change will allow truckers to work up to 82 hours over eight days, according to Bloomberg News.

Safety experts warn that the measures are likely to hurt Americans across the country. But they should be particularly infuriating for residents of Ithaca: The city’s long history of repeated trucking calamities, including one unforgettably horrific tragedy about six months ago, should unite us against the federal government’s recklessness.

What do the new rules do? NPR explains that Congress has now suspended rules that required drivers to take consecutive nights off after every 70 hours behind the wheel.

In other words, we’ll have more tired truck drivers on the roads for longer. “I am seriously concerned that this suspension will put lives at risk,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told Bloomberg News.

It’s important not to overstate our argument. There’s no indication from local law enforcement that the June crash at Simeon’s that killed pregnant bartender Amanda Bush, 27, was caused by a tired driver.

It’s also true that the new rules are provisional. As NJ.com notes, the rules are only suspended until Sept. 30 “or whenever the government completes a study of the impact of those regulations.”

But as Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton pointed out last week, it’s hard to imagine how the government’s actions do anything but exacerbate the problem of truck safety.

“When you look at these issues, you look at how many hours people sleep,” Lifton said of the truck drivers in an interview with The Voice. “Things are more likely to go wrong (when sleep deprived) — you make bad judgements, maybe the driver doesn’t do his brake checks, they go down a road they shouldn’t be going down.”

Relaxing trucking restrictions was the pet project of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Collins is from the part of Maine where trucking companies remain powerful, and the senator received over $44,000 from the industry in the latest campaign cycle, according to Bloomberg.

We should be outraged, if not surprised, that money is warping our political system to put Ithacans’ lives at risk. And we should stand behind Mayor Svante Myrick when he says, “I believe that rolling back common sense safety regulations – like limiting drivers to 70 hours on the road each week – is a terrible idea … Especially because this summer a tragic accident stole from Ithaca a member of our community and irreparably damaged our sense of security and safety.”

Ithaca sometimes feels like a world onto itself, cocooned in its distinctive culture and politics. The actions of the Senate may prove a painful reminder that this is no more than a myth.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.