End of the Sessioner #2: To Bond or Not to Bond, Questions About Priorities in the Governor’s Toll Plan


What Rhode Island’s Governor and legislature decide in the next couple of weeks with regards to highway tolls depends on what their policy priorities are, by which I mean…

1. Despite the fact that a case for funding a decade or more of highway construction with a revenue bond, instead of saving money on interest and spending the savings directly on construction, has not yet been presented to the public,…

2. …a revenue bond financed through tolls seems to be an integral part of Governor Gina Raimondo’s transportation infrastructure plan.

3. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello is concerned about the impact highway tolls would have on the local economy, which is a reasonable concern, and has signaled he’d like to see some kind of local-relief plan implemented.

4. However, Federal case law based on the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause clearly looks askance upon local carve-outs when it comes to highway tolls/user-fees/whatever you want to call them, meaning that…

5. …if a tolling plan did include a local “discount” in its structure, there is a risk it would be immediately enjoined (with the help of ground-transportation trade organizations which appear to have some pretty good lawyers).

6. And, of course, if a tolling program were enjoined right away, a bond sale probably couldn’t proceed until the case was resolved, which would probably take several years, at least.

What to watch for is this: if the priority is issuing the bond, something without anything resembling a local exemption that could bring the court-system into the process needs to be passed soon, and a special session in the later half of the fall might be too late to get bonds issued for this tax-year. If, on the other hand, the bond itself is less of a priority, the timeline is not quite so immediate, and some explanation to the public of why interest payments associated with a bond make sense is in order.

But bond or no-bond, it’s going to be difficult to construct a local preference for vehicle tolls that survives Federal court scrutiny. Based on the proposal already submitted, we know this won’t prevent the Governor from supporting tolls. Will the Speaker eventually come to share to the same attitude?

  • guest

    2. …a revenue bond financed through tolls seems to be an integral part of Governor Gina Raimondo’s transportation infrastructure plan.

    What is the political intrigue behind Gina springing this incredibly complicated tolling plan on us at the very end of this legislative session ??

    My guess is she knew it would be a No Go … for now … and prolly Forever

    But when she runs for re·election, at least she can say she tried … it was those dog-darn Union Teamsters that stopped her from achieving her goals … cue the
    Re-election Inaugural Balls ♪Music♫