Political Scene: Only Four Legislators Attended the Governor’s Rah-Rah Tolls Event Featuring VP Biden


So reports today’s must-read-as-always Political Scene in the Providence Journal

The four Democrats who attended the event under an East Providence highway overpass: Senators Gayle Goldin and Josh Miller, and Representatives Aaron Regunberg and Arthur Handy.

All other legislators, including those who voted for Governor Raimondo’s RhodeWorks toll plan and, notably, the House Speaker and the Senate President, apparently had other plans that precluded them from attending this high profile event.

Oh dear. What happened? Are tolls so politically unpopular with voters that they caused legislators to forego a significant opportunity to get some juicy media attention during an election year? (Don’t be misled by your legislators’ absence. See how your rep voted on tolls here and how your senator voted here.)

Important side note: the attendance of Senator Goldin and Rep Regunberg, who represent Providence, at this event is especially disturbing as, under the preliminary list of gantry locations, five business-strangling gantries would encircle Providence. Respectfully, honorable legislators, how could you attend an event to publicly condone (much less vote for) a new revenue stream that will inevitably heavily damage the residents and businesses in the city that you represent?

  • Russ


    To me, the situation seems pretty straightforward: our infrastructure is in disrepair, and the responsibility for that disrepair is not evenly distributed throughout our state. Big trucks do a lot of damage to our roads and bridges. In fact, a government study found that one 40-ton truck causes as much damage as 9,600 cars. Yet the folks who own these trucks are not paying for the consequences of their damage – all of us are. It’s a negative externality on a public good, not so different from a factory polluting a river or a smoker’s second-hand smoke. And in the same way that I support environmental regulations and smoke-free workplaces, I believe it’s completely reasonable to require the businesses who are deteriorating this shared public good to the greatest extent to pay their fair share for our infrastructure’s upkeep and maintenance.

    So I stand by my vote to invest in our state’s economic development, to invest in the livelihood of our workers, and to invest in the the future safety of our young people. And while I would never claim to be the final arbiter of what is and is not progressive (that age-old question we love to argue about on the left), I will say that in my personal opinion, RhodeWorks passes that test easily, and those of us who care passionately about economic, social, and racial justice have better targets for our energy and outrage than the placement of a $20 toll on a million dollar truck.

    • Rob YXZ

      Wow you’re sure drinking the cool aid. Yes trucks do more damage than the average car, but the highway system is designed and built for trucks. The reason RI roads and bridges are failing is because somewhere along the way, the RI legislators decided to forgo performing maintenance in order to try to balance the state budget. Maintenance for roads and bridges comes directly out of the State budget. If the road or bridge fails, then the money to fix it comes from the federal budget. RIDOT’s budget is 80% federally funded – most States get about 20%. The problem in RI is wasteful spending- which we refuse to curb – I say we as taxpayers collectively because we keep voting the same idiots into office every 4 years. And if you think the tolls are going to stop with trucks, you’re just fooling yourself. I don’t care what language they try to write into the law, sooner or later THEY WILL TOLL EVERYONE.

      • Russ

        That’s a quote from Rep. Regunberg about his thinking on the issue.

        My own take is it’s better to have trucks paying into the system than free-riding on RI taxpayer’s backs. Whether cars will ever pay a toll is basically a red herring created by the trucking industry to confuse RI residents into insisting on paying the entire bill. You’re effectively saying, “wasteful spending is the blame so I’d prefer to continue to pay the full amount.”

        • Rob YXZ

          No I’m saying cut the wasteful spending, and you’ll find the money. Again, the RIDOT is 80% federally funded, so the RI residents aren’t paying the entire bill anyway – not to mention, only about 50% of RIders actually pay taxes. Like everything else, it’s a way to get more money into the “general fund” so we can waste more, give our “friends” 6-figure salary jobs, give out state contracts to our other “friends”. That’s how RI government works, that’s what Gina said she wouldn’t do while she was campaigning, but hasn’t stopped doing since she took office – The firm that took over the RI pension system, the “Cooler Warmer” campaign-all connected to her.

          • Russ

            And which services would you cut? Keep in mind, you’re talking mostly about cuts to Medicaid if you’re being honest. Cooler and Warmer is a rounding error on a project this size.

            Seems to be wishful thinking and a recipe for bridge closures or perhaps even a catastrophic failure.

          • Raymond Carter

            This is easy, troll.
            Just cut welfare, crony and public union piggie spending to the national medians.

          • Mike678

            LOL. “…pay into the system rather than free riding on other people’s backs.” Note the selectivity–trucks can’t free ride, but politicians, ‘green energy’ (subsidies), illegals and the permanent welfare class get a pass. Selective enforcement is hypocrisy…

            More to the point, Russ evidently doesn’t understand that the trucks don’t pay the toll–the people do as the cost is passed to them through higher priced goods. So, just another tax on the people. And, ironically, a more regressive tax as it’s not just the working. productive class that are taxed, but everyone who purchases these goods–rich or poor.

          • Russ

            I get that. I just think that’s as it should be. You think RI taxpayers should subsidize consumers in NYC, Boston, and elsewhere; I don’t. Those externalized costs should be reflected in the actual cost of the goods.

            Are there other industries RI taxpayers should subsidize to reduce the cost to consumers? If not, why should the government be picking winners and losers in this case but not others? Oddly many conservatives seem to lose all perspective on this one.

          • Mike678

            LOL–you talking about loss of perspective. Conservatives and others may lose it, but at least they had it to lose!

            Frankly. you seem more interested in defending the corruption/ inefficiency and trolling than actually thinking through any issues. To point, where did I say RI’ers should subsidize anyone else? More strawman arguments? You are a walking logical fallacy at times.

            If you “get” that RI’ers are paying for the road maintenance through tolls, please tell us how it is more efficient and effective to introduce a new bureacracy to collect said tolls rather than just up the existing gas tax or increase current tax rates? Raise the subsidized RIPTA bus rates? Both monies go to the State and are disbursed to pay for roads. How is adding infrastructure and bureacracy more efficient?

            BTW, did you write the check as the guest suggested? Walk your talk?

          • Russ

            Um, I’m not Rep. Regunberg. To the point though, why should I write a check to pay for the damage out off state truckers cause? I already do that every April. Why don’t you folks take up a collection to offset those poor corporations’ transportation costs? That’s what Monique would have you do, while promising you the spending cut fairly will reward you if you’ll just stand up for the right of big business to avoid taxes.

            “Please tell us how it is more efficient and effective to introduce a new bureacracy to collect said tolls rather than just up the existing gas tax or increase current tax rates? Raise the subsidized RIPTA bus rates?”

            All of those suggestions unfairly burden RI taxpayers and give out of state truckers, who don’t pay RI taxes and can fill up elsewhere, a free pass.

          • Mike678

            You forgot…the truck companies aren’t paying the tolls. You, I and the people are through higher costs of goods. Only RI’ers, however, will pay for the added toll infrastructure and bureaucracy. So I don’t need to write a check to the trucking companies, do I? I will just have to write a bigger check at tax time and at the checkout. And do really think that these tolls will be “fair” in that they will just cover the so-called damage? Or will they become yet another revenue stream for the general fund?

          • Russ

            But only the people who purchase those goods pay the transportation costs. Right now I pay even if I’m not seeing any benefit. You seem to think that if someone ships a Lexus from Newark to Boston via I95, RI taxpayers should care that the car costs that consumer a faction of a cent more.

            Not to mention that not all reductions in cost are passed on to consumers. Some are taken in profit.

          • Mike678

            “But only the people who purchase those goods pay the transportation costs.”

            You don’t buy food? Clothing? Fuel? Those costs will go up–that’s your benefit if you want to call it that. That’s your investment in a better future. Or do you think that now that the statehouse maw is getting toll dollars (initially from the trucks, but eventually from the people) to supposedly fix the roads (but wait–isn’t it bait and switch to the bypass?) that we’ll see a offset in the gas tax? That would be a benefit to offset the higher consumer costs, but dream on…

            Your earlier argument relies on the false premise that most of the trucks never refuel in RI–that we derive no local benefit. That would be difficult for the local trucks, no? And last I looked, I have seen no “no interstate trucks allowed” signs in RI gas stations. Moreover, isn’t I 95 an Interstate? Who pays for over 90% of that maintenance, Russ? Why should the State charge me at the store more for something I already pay federal taxes for? And as the Fed mx is paid for, in part, by fed levied gas tax, aren’t the trucks–no matter where they fuel, paying into the roads that you and other RI’ers use?

            Defending a flawed policy is one thing as long as the discussion/arguments are reasonable, but denial, strawman arguments and idiocy is another.

          • Mike678

            what’s the matter Russ? Are the facts inconvenient to your perception? Off to a safe space?

    • Lance Wilson

      Regenburg is mixing economic terms. You can’t have a “negative externality” with a public good. Also, highways/roads are not public goods.

      Public goods by definition are non-rivalrous (my use does not impact your use) and non-excludable (people can be prevented from using the good/service once it has been provided). Highways are excludable (tolls, checkpoints, etc.) and rivalrous (congestion from overuse). They are essentially a private good we have made a common good by choosing to assign ownership (for the most part) to the people through their proxy in the form of various levels of government. Common goods suffer from the problem lack of private ownership leads to little incentive for individuals to care for the good since they accrue the benefits without absorbing the true costs to themselves.

      Just because the government has provided the good does not make it public in the economic sense. In your examples (rivers) and in this case (roads/bridges), those are club goods (air in the broadest sense is a free good given its availability).

      Negative (or positive) externalities are costs (benefits) associated with the production of a good or service on 3rd (non-market) participants. Car/Truck drivers do NOT create a negative externality in their wear/tear on roads/bridges because in theory no 3rd party (non-market person) is “using” the roads (if they are using it, they are by definition in the market).

      This is different than smokers because the market is “smoking” and the benefits accrue to the smoker while only some of the costs do (the impact on the air costs non-smokers).

      Thus, the problem is simply we have made for the most part roads/bridges “free” in dollars sense – but the market participants pay indirectly (although not equally and not in proportion to their benefit) because of congestion, higher car repair/maintenance, higher transportation costs, higher risk of injury, etc.).

      The solution for a common good is to assign and enforce (since no private ownership) costs (or better yet assign private ownership). Tolls maybe an answer, but *everyone* should pay so it is hypocritical to say “only these trucks”.

      (Note – while it is true, based on elasticity of demand, that the costs would be passed on to some degree to end users of transported goods, that merely reflects the point those goods *should* have had higher prices to reflect the impact of transportation on the common good).

      BUT..instead of tolls or the more fair, but way too invasive and scary method of tracking individual driving and taxing, we have had gas taxes (indirect) and motor vehicle taxes and fees (I mean, I know some people collect cars, but 99.9% I guess use vehicles to drive somewhere). $1.4B (that’s a B) in state gas taxes alone in 10 years. Local motor vehicle taxes. Sales taxes on vehicles. State DMV fees. That’s $B of dollars.

      Other than the cost of running the DMV and tax offices, **where exactly have those $Bs gone*???? If not to fix roads and bridges, that’s the fault of the leaders (and in RI case, the democratic party for the most part and a couple of Rep Governors). At the local level, motor vehicle taxes should fix *local* roads — to use those funds for the general fund and then turn around a complain about the state of road/bridge disrepair is really an insult to the vehicle owners who have contributed their share (maybe disproportionately, but again, see the point about subsidizing the cost of consumer goods, which does benefit lower income households more proportionately) AND then paid the extra costs of the failure to use those funds to fix the “market” that generated those taxes/fees.

      It’s really quite simple – let’s start with spending just gas, vehicle taxes/fees, and existing tolls on ONLY roads/bridges.