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Toll Discounts for RI Companies Would Almost Certainly Be Rejected by the Courts


In 2009, US District Court Judge William E. Smith decided a lawsuit (Cohen v. Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority) about whether non-Rhode Island residents could be charged a substantially larger toll ($4.00) for using the Newport Bridge than residents were charged ($0.83).

Judge Smith centered the substance of his ruling on a three-part test from a 1994 Supreme Court case, Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. County of Kent, Mich

“A levy is reasonable under [Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Auth. Dist. v. Delta Airlines, Inc.] if it (1) is based on some fair approximation of use of the facilities, (2) is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce.”

In arguing that the Newport toll structure violated the third part of the test, the plaintiff cited Oregon Waste Systems v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, where the Supreme Court in 1993 had ruled…

“We have held that the first step in analyzing any law subject to judicial scrutiny under the negative Commerce Clause is to determine whether it “regulates evenhandedly with only ‘incidental’ effects on interstate commerce, or discriminates against interstate commerce”….As we use the term here, “discrimination” simply means differential treatment of in-state and out-of-state economic interests that benefits the former and burdens the latter. If a restriction on commerce is discriminatory, it is virtually per se invalid.”

However, Judge Smith upheld the Newport toll structure, in part, because he found that the plaintiff had assumed a connection between a residency requirement and interstate commerce which was left unproven…

In this case Plaintiff has failed to identify a specific in-state commercial interest that is favored by the Newport Bridge toll discount at the expense of particular out-of-state competitors, so it cannot demonstrate that the discount discriminates against interstate commerce.

Suffice it to say that in the case of a substantial in-state versus out-of-state toll differential on commercial vehicles, in-state commercial interests favored at the expense of particular out-of-state competitors will be readily identifiable, and the test cited in Oregon Waste Systems that looks unfavorably on differential treatment will be applied.

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SNAP Data Sings the Rhode Island Tune

Month-to-month trends of SNAP beneficiaries in Rhode Island and across the country show another way that Rhode Island is unique and reinforces a theory of decline that seems to fit every picture in the Ocean State.

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July 2014 Employment: The Dream Is Over

Rhode Island’s statistical employment surge came to a screeching halt in July, but not before putting the Ocean State in company with the Deep South. (Of course, the numbers still look likely to be revised downward dramatically in January.)

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Illegal Aliens and RI Social Programs: Qualifying Documentation Ranges from Strong to Alarmingly Weak

… In response to an inquiry from Ocean State Current-Anchor Rising, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services sent over several documents. One of those listed all of the documents that an applicant for social services can submit to verify citizenship qualification for those benefits.