On behalf of all Rhode Islanders, thanks to Minority Leader Patricia Morgan for filing a bill to repeal RhodeWorks’ truck (wink) tolls. (See her statement after the jump.)
Governor Gina Raimondo asserted the need for tolls as a financial necessity to repair state bridges which were/are some of the worst in the country but, by golly, we just don’t have
the will to find the money in the state budget (even though it’s a MAJOR public safety issue, danger, danger, Will Robinson).
However, the governor has decisively rebutted her own assertions about the fiscal necessity of tolls, as StopTollsRI.com (disclosure: I act as their spokesperson) pointed out in a letter to the Providence Journal on Sunday, by proposing a brand new, $30M/year spending program.
“Free” college tuition is at best nice to have (and it certainly would not solve the state’s employee skills gap, as the governor claims). If there is money in the budget for an expensive nice-to-have item, then it is clear that there is money for a less expensive vital service such as bridge repairs.
Legislators can now vote to repeal tolls, secure in the knowledge that public safety did not necessitate the passage of this highly destructive new revenue stream and confident that the money can be found in the budget to repair the state’s unsafe bridges. The governor has helpfully done this hard work for them.
Statement issued by Leader Patricia Morgan (R-Coventry, Warwick and West Warwick) today announcing the imminent filing of a bill to repeal tolls.
House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan to Submit Legislation to Repeal Truck Tolls in Rhode Island
STATE HOUSE — On Tuesday, April 11, 2017, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R-District 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) will submit legislation to repeal the Rhode Works toll law.
Rep. Morgan’s bill would repeal the provisions of the general laws which created the “Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Fund Act of 2016”, also known as “Rhode Works”, which will impose tolls on large commercial trucks.
“The Rhode Works bill is irresponsible and should never have passed last year. It is a $45 million albatross around the necks of Rhode Island consumers. It will add to our already high cost of living, making it more difficult for average Rhode Islanders to keep their head above water. It will undoubtedly hurt our small businesses who are struggling to remain competitive with rivals in other states not burdened with the extra shipping costs. In other words it will had more weight to an economy that is already dead last.”
“In addition, truck tolls are most likely unconstitutional. The American Truckers Association and its lawyers have conducted extensive research and are prepared to submit compelling arguments in court that tolling one class of vehicle is discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional. Despite our many requests, Governor Raimondo has failed to produce any legal justification to the contrary. This leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that her rationale is poorly supported.” Rep. Morgan said.
“Representative Quattrocchi submitted legislation (H-5334) that would require the Governor to install only one tolling gantry to trigger the litigation. It would prevent the state from spending unnecessary millions on gantries until all legal questions are resolved. Despite the protective reasoning behind this common sense measure, she has ignored the suggestion and is proceeding full steam ahead.”
“That aggressive approach may force Rhode Islanders into a deep and expensive hole. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation bragged at the recent one year anniversary of the Rhode Works law that it has already signed contracts to spend $174 million, with an additional $200 million by July 2017. Another $400 million for the 6/10 highway is being finalized plus spending for a train station, gantries and transit centers. By the end of the year over $1 billion in signed contracts is anticipated. All of this spending is happening before we collect one dime from tolls. Is the plan to dig such a deep budget chasm that the Administration can use it to justify tolling all vehicles to pay off the debt?” Morgan questioned.
“I also have serious concerns about how the money is being spent. The Governor forced through tolls on the premise that our bridges are the worst in the country and they are dangerous. And yet, from some projects we observe, bridge repair is not the priority.”
“I have mentioned the Slatersville Bridge repeatedly. This is a tiny bridge, just 107 feet long. The original repair was listed as $9.1 million. Over the past 2 months that amount has risen nearly 50% and is now $13.5 million. Worse the spending includes a park and garden and scenic amenities. Please don’t tell me that we passed the law that will harm consumers, businesses, job seekers and the trucking industry so the Town of Slatersville could have a nice place to grow flowers. Either the claims of imminent bridge collapse were false or the Governor and her team are spending tolls wastefully. Both scenarios are wrong and we should call a halt until we get truthful answers.”
“I also have concerns that the cost of construction is being inflated to make the ‘little blue campaign’ signs always indicate on time and on schedule. We need answers and without a halt I fear we will not get them until it is too late.”
“Last year the Governor said Rhode Island was too broke to come up with the $45 million to avoid tolls. Yet this year she has proposed eliminating car taxes, starting a new entitlement program to pay college tuition, and now buy a stadium. Clearly, she was not being forthright with us. There never was a need to toll our highways.”
“It’s not too late. We can still pay for bridge repair from our current budget. But we must stop this detrimental law now before the debt it creates gets unmanageable.”