Here is the full communication concerning her pro-toll vote that one of Democrat Cumberland/Lincoln Representative Mia Ackerman’s constituents forwarded to The Current, as described in part, yesterday:
I am writing to you because my concern that the plan to repair the state’s roads and bridges has become such a toxic issue due to incomplete and, in some cases, downright false information. When the Governor first introduced her plan in the spring, the Senate rushed to judgement and passed the Governor’s bill exactly as she wanted it. Most of us in the House of Representatives, me included, went to the House Speaker and indicated to him that we were not comfortable with the plan and asked him to slow things down because of the level of importance attached to it. After a discussion with members of the House Finance Committee, I knew for sure that the bill needed plenty of further study.
As a result, The Speaker ordered an independent study and paid $50,000 to a firm (REMI, based in Massachusetts) that specializes in municipal and state project assessment and evaluation. When he received their economic evaluation and recommendations, he consulted with a respected economist from URI, Dr. Len Lardaro. Dr. Lardaro is known for never sugarcoating anything and is, frankly, painfully honest in his assessments. He took the study, made a few refinements of his own and told the Speaker that given the treacherous state of structurally deficient bridges in this state, the new bill before the House is the best, most responsible route to take. The Speaker and the fiscal staff consult with Dr. Lardaro frequently so he is very familiar with the state’s finances. The final bill is based on facts, not opinions and rhetoric.
Every single state in the nation tolls trucks except Rhode Island and Connecticut. Connecticut suspended their tolls five years ago, but will reinstate them next year because they learned that they cannot sustain their infrastructure without them. I do not think that it is a coincidence that this state has the worse roads and bridges in the country and we are the only state that never tolled trucks.
The new bill fixes 150 structurally deficient bridges and keeps another 500 from falling into that category – making them more expensive to fix later. The issuing of a bond will now be $300 million instead of $600 million, mostly due to infusion of federal dollars that were not available when the Governor first introduced her bill. The interest on the bond has been reduced by 65%: from $578 million to $204 million. The bond will be for 15 years instead of the original 30 years. The average toll will be $3 instead of $3.50 and the number of gantries has been reduced from 17 to 14. CARS WILL NEVER BE TOLLED unless voters approve it if it is ever proposed by future legislatures. That is in the bill and will be part of the law. We still have a bit of work to do on the bill to add requirements for quarterly reporting, auditing, salt mitigation/bridge upkeep and some other contract requirements to ensure that DOT manages the money responsibly.
Between 4,000-6,000 welders, pipefitters, painters, cement truck haulers, etc., have been out of work since the Great Recession. As a result, many of them are on public assistance, thereby eligible for food stamps, housing assistance heating assistance and all of the other social services we subsidize with our tax dollars.
As a result of this bill, they will get back to work over the next 10 years. Those figures were part of the analysis. Improving jobs and the economy gets them off public assistance and they will be paying state income tax as well as having money to spend in the state’s economy.
Large trucks contribute their fair share of damage to our roads and bridges and, in 48 states, they pay tolls and those tolls are dedicated to maintaining the infrastructure in those 48 states. In Rhode Island, they literally get a free ride and contribute nothing.
To understand the bill in pragmatic terms, let’s use the example of an 18 wheeler (the only trucks that will be tolled) crossing the George Washington Bridge in New York and paying a toll of $125 each way to deliver a million dollar load of “widgets” to be sold in and bought by Rhode Islanders. The $250 toll is factored into the cost of those widgets bought by Rhode Islanders. Effectively, Rhode Islanders contribute to the maintenance of roads and bridges in New York. We are asking for a $20 toll each way, once a day no matter how many times that trucker enters or leaves the state in a 24 hour period.
So, since Rhode Island has never asked truckers to pay tolls, the truckers or the trucking companies never had to calculate the $40 into the cost of goods that are manufactured here in Rhode Island and get delivered to and bought by out-of-staters. Effectively, no consumers in any of the other 48 states have ever helped to maintain our infrastructure. There is a basic economic principle of reciprocity. I do not think that most people ever think about the costs included in the purchase price of an item and, frankly, I never did either until this issue emerged. I completely understand that the delivery truck’s fuel, registration costs, tolls, licensing costs, driver salary, loading, etc., are all factored into the purchase price of the shoes, the groceries and anything else I buy. I simply do not think that a $20 toll will be a hardship on any trucker, trucking company, retailer or consumer. Forty-eight states already do it and, frankly, if Rhode Island weren’t so late to the game, perhaps our roads and bridges would not have deteriorated to the sorry and dangerous conditions they are in now. Our bridges, especially, are a tragedy waiting to happen and I do not want that to occur on my watch. 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.
So, I apologize for the length of this letter, but this is not an issue that can be explained in 25 words or less. My decision is based on expert, economic input and calculation, not on nasty rhetoric, threats or fear. That is how confident I am that this is the right thing to do.
As always, I am honored to serve you!
Very truly yours,
Mia A. Ackerman
Deputy Majority Leader