An assertion made repeatedly by pro-toll people at the House Finance hearing on Thursday was that out-of-state truckers will pay 60% of the bill. A commenter on this site just made the same point:
At the hearing it was said that 60% of the toll revenue would come from out of state large trucks. I don’t understand why toll opponents want only RIers to pay for road repairs, especially as those large trucks do significant damage.
The first point to make in response is that the objection isn’t to people out of state helping to pay for our infrastructure. The problem is: To get out-of-staters to pay 60% of tolls, Rhode Islanders have to pay the other 40% on top of all of the already-high taxes and fees they pay to government. The argument is akin to expressing disbelief that somebody objects to paying $4,000 more for cable TV on the grounds that the bill is actually going up $10,000, but is discounted by $6,000. In other words, it’s the kind of argument that only sounds good in government debates in which facts and the truth don’t matter.
Speaking of the truth, though, unless there’s a new source for this 60% claim, it comes from a study by CDM Smith. Unfortunately, as I’ve written before, that study doesn’t account for diversion. In October, I found:
Just for illustration of the effects that change could have, if we apply the diversion evenly across all routes and assume the extreme that all diversion would come from out-of-state truckers, then the percentage of traffic more than flips. In-state trucks would account for 60% of all truck traffic in the state.
Applying rough ratios for a multi-trip discount and assuming the discounts would all go to in-state truckers, they would still be responsible for nearly 57% of all tolls, or $34 million per year, if the goal is $60 million in revenue. That’s more than $10 million larger than implied by CDM.
On the broader argument about user fees, as I’ve written often before, it would generally be a good thing to transition from broad-based taxes to user fees, but that’s not what we’re getting, here. State and local governments have maxed out the taxes they can collect from Rhode Islanders, so they’re using this stuff about a “user fee” as an excuse to raise even more money. By all means, get people who use a service to pay for it, but when we’re already paying for it and won’t be getting that money back, increasing revenue is simply a money grab for special interests.