From the wow-that-didn’t-take-long department, the Providence Journal’s Kathy Gregg, in a piece of kick-butt journalism yesterday, reports that the tolling of all vehicles is now on the table as an option. It seems that, at Speaker Mattiello’s suggestion, Governor Gina Raimondo is carrying out an “economic analysis”.
In recent months, the administration also commissioned an “economic analysis” of Raimondo’s truck-toll plan and a variety of other possible revenue-raising options that could, potentially, include: other new “user-fees,” gas taxes and a revived effort to toll all vehicles — not just big trucks — on Route 95 near the Connecticut border.
To point out the obvious, this analysis simply isn’t necessary because the funds for road and bridge repairs can and should be found in the current budget. Looking for waste, fraud and abuse in all programs, including a more rigorous screening of qualifications, including citizenship qualifications for social programs, would be one painless, political-risk-free way of finding many precious budget dollars to put to better use, if not – amazing concept! – actually returned to the taxpayer via lower taxes.
This would be a very good place to stop and note: Is there any doubt that the principle goal of the accelerated bridge inspection program ordered by the former Director of Programs for the Laborers International Union of North America and current RIDOT Director Peter Alviti was to build an urgent case for a drastic, odious and highly unpopular funding program; namely, statewide tolls? “Goodness, look at how bad all of these bridges are! Guess we have no choice but to squander SIX HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS on NOT repairing roads and bridges.”
From Gregg’s article, we further learn that the governor has, grotesquely, hired a p.r. firm to try to sell the idea of tolls. This is like using the money you took from someone’s wallet to try to convince them that it’s a good idea for you to regularly bonk them on the head for the rest of their life.
But the meeting was one in a series of developments, including the state’s hiring of the RDW Group for $140 an hour to help market the governor’s stalled — but very much alive — $1.1-billion toll plan, which could be the centerpiece of a special legislative session this fall. …
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation produced a single document on Wednesday in response to Journal questions about the no-bid hiring of the Providence public-relations and marketing firm, RDW. Dated May 7, 2015, the purchase order authorized the DOT director’s office to pay RDW up to $226,000 over an unspecified period of time to provide “marketing services for RIDOT’s ten year plan.” The purchase order was described as a “critical expense request.” “To date, $46,740.14 has been spent on this contract,” according to RIDOT spokeswoman Rose Jones. But RDW chairman and managing partner James Malachowski said the firm was hired by the DOT “to help with communications around the toll initiative’’ and that one of RDW’s first contributions was the creation of the name and the logo for “Rhode Works,” Raimondo’s tolling plan.
If there were any doubts as to who would benefit directly and heavily from the head-bonkin …, er the introduction of tolls, the opening of Gregg’s article dispels them.
On Aug. 4, representatives of the state’s engineering and road-construction companies gathered at the Laborers International Union headquarters on South Main Street to talk about how much each might be willing to contribute to an ad campaign for Governor Raimondo’s truck-toll plan for financing bridge repairs. Told the ad campaign could cost them “a little bit north of $100,000,” they backed away — at least for now, according to one participant.
Tolls, in sum, would be a win-win for Governor Raimondo. She would avoid the work of finding the necessary revenue for road and bridge repairs in the current budget. And she would win the eternal devotion of a large tranche of organized labor, who would return the favor by heartily supporting her upwardly mobile political ambitions.
So tolls are good for Governor Raimondo. But they are a terrible idea for Rhode Island. No only would they add to the state’s already too-high taxes, fees and overall cost of living, they would exacerbate the state’s already bad business climate, thereby further repulsing businesses and JOBS and shrinking the tax base. On behalf of the state’s beleaguered and over-burdened residents, we ask our leaders to turn away from yet another easy, politically expedient, yet very costly solution of the kind that has repeatedly, over decades, seriously damaged Rhode Island’s economy, its tax base and continues to inexorably drive businesses as well as hard-working people and retirees out of state.
UPDATE: Governor Raimondo on Tolls in Her Own Words
Browsing through some recent news articles set aside for future reference, the future is now for this one: an interview of Governor Raimondo by Bloomberg Business earlier this month. The article concludes:
She is always ready to listen to anyone, she says, and then she makes up her own mind. A recent example is the trucker controversy. She listened until she had heard enough.
“Just the pay the tolls,” she said, “and fix the damned roads.”
Addendum: Monique Chartier is Communications Director of Rhode Island Taxpayers, a non-partisan taxpayer and business advocacy organization, and Editor of the R.I. Taxpayer Times.