Dear Potentially-Toll Affected Company:
Look, it’s completely understandable what you’re trying to do. There’s a real possibility that the government – the State of Rhode Island, in this case – would lay a heavy financial burden on your operation. It’s natural, when a heavy blow seems inevitable, to try to lessen it.
And the state officials who are talking to you are not dumb. While some of them very much want this new revenue stream, they also know that if you leave the state (or decide to work against their reelection), the political repercussions for them could be bad. Depending upon the number of Rhode Islanders you employ, maybe real bad.
So to shield themselves and try to make you happy – or at least, less unhappy – these state officials are offering to partially offset your losses to tolls through an abatement – perhaps of registration or other fees. Or, if you’re big enough, maybe they’re offering a tax incentive or tax rebate, of the sort that now has a pretty sordid reputation, to keep you from moving over the border or cutting back your operations here.
And under other circumstances, cutting such a deal, accepting such an arrangement would probably be the right thing to do for your company. You’re not in business to work for good (or bad) government or to try to teach anyone anything. You’re just trying to survive (and, god forbid, maybe even make a profit) for your employees, your shareholders, yourselves. Another government fee on the horizon? Let’s mitigate it the best we can and move on.
Here’s what you need to understand. This is not one of those times. The tolls on your business – on everyone’s business – would be permanent. The deal you make – the abatement, the rebate – is temporary. It could go away next year, in two years, in five. Any time the General Assembly or a misguided governor decides that they are feeling poor or that your deal/abatement/rebate is just not fair to everyone else, it’s gone.
Conversely, once those gantries go up, they’re not coming down.
I’m not suggesting that you join the barricades, though this may well one of the few times it would be the right thing for your company. I am urging you not to allow yourself to be jollied into a bad deal. The potential (not inevitable; tolls are absolutely not inevitable at this point) blow is a heavy one. But unlike other times and other deals, the mitigation would not last. Politicians and abatement arrangements come and go. New government fees, on the other hand, take up permanent residency on the books – but only if we allow them to be wheedled into existence on the basis of very shaky deals.