Almost from the appearance of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal on Rhode Island’s political scene, indications of the hard push have filtered out to the public. As the state Senate rushed to pass the enabling legislation last spring and the House resisted, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R) questioned the motivation behind the state Dept. of Transportation’s sudden closure of a key bridge a few blocks from Mattiello’s law office.
More recently, with Mattiello now on the other side of the issue, controversy has swelled around a meeting that the speaker canceled with South County officials and the treatment of House Finance Committee Member Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick and West-Warwick) by both the DOT director, Peter Alviti, and the committee’s chairman, Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth).
Now a constituent has forwarded to The Current a lengthy correspondence apparently from Mia Ackerman (D, Cumberland, Lincoln) in which the state representative explains why she intends to vote for the revised toll-and-borrow infrastructure plan. In addition to concerns about the state’s infrastructure and doubts about alternative proposals, the letter states:
I also do not want to be the legislator who voted against this bill. If I do vote against this bill, I have an uncomfortable feeling that if I call DOT with a request for a repair or replacement in District 27, my request will not exactly be a priority. I will have failed my constituents and placed them in further peril by shuffling them to the bottom of the pile, so to speak.
Ackerman did not respond to a request for additional information, and House spokesman Larry Berman says he has not heard of any similar fears. However, the substitute bill that sparked the exchange between Morgan and Gallison may not alleviate such concerns. Amid new language ostensibly intended to provide oversight of and accountability for the RIDOT, section 42-13.1-15(c)(5) appears to give the director broad authority to waive “bridge maintenance requirements” if he can cite “circumstances” that “eliminate the need for maintenance activities in any given calendar year.”