Sixth highest spending per mile for some of the country’s worst infrastructure. If money were going to solve the state’s infrastructure issues, they would have been fixed long before now. No on Bond Question #4.
What’s so special about March 2nd? That’s the date of a Special Election in Rhode Island. Its only questions – seven of them – are for the approval of a wide spectrum of bond authority so more than six hundred million dollars worth of deficit spending can be undertaken. Mark Zaccaria says NO! You should, too.
The Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) made a conscious effort to never publicly target recently-ousted Speaker of the Rhode Island House, Nicholas Mattiello.
Mark Zaccaria runs through some of the things that need changing in RI and points out the only way to do so.
Why isn’t Rhode Island government interested in visually exciting architecture? Because our system makes paying off insiders too high a priority, says Mark Zaccaria.
In its defense of the RhodeWorks tolling scheme, we see our state government hiding behind two noxious clouds.
Being in the car less, recently, I’ve fallen behind on podcast listening, so the episode of Changing Gears to which I listened while working out last night was a few weeks old. The guys were explaining the various reasons (having to do with materials, labor, and politics) that Rhode Island’s roads don’t last.
Not long afterwards, I was back at the computer and thinking (again) how far Internet technology has come in the past year… when the power went out. All the Zooming, podcasting, on-demand streaming, and other innovations that this viral crisis has made so critical to basic life fell of the table of social organization in an instant. On a clear night, the flow of electricity just stopped.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever losing power when the weather didn’t provide an obvious explanation, and it seems to be becoming more common in recent years. Every time it happens, I can hear a few more generators running, as my neighborhood adapts to this new reality over time.
While the world has been substantially shut down, I’ve also been catching up on reading legislation that managed to receive floor votes. Here’s one to ban disposable plastic shopping bags, and I note the news today that San Francisco has now banned reusable shopping bags to prevent spread of COVID-19. Another bill that didn’t manage to get a vote in the innocent days before the pandemic (House, Senate) would have criminalized the intentional release of balloons into the air.
Yes, while a virus was spreading around the planet bringing death and economic ruin, Rhode Island legislators were pondering a bill titled “Relating to Health and Safety – Balloons.”
Whether we’re talking about the roads or the power grid or the budgetary desperation we’re hearing from our elected officials, the message ought to be clear: Rhode Island has to get back to basics. Stop worrying about balloons. Stop micromanaging the economy. Stop confiscating tax money from people in order to fund superfluous things or pet projects.
This crisis is illustrating the necessity of government for a variety of functions, but it is also proving the need for government to do those critical things well. And that means focusing on them, including a halt to the drain of taxpayer money to things that just shouldn’t be priorities. Both basic government functions and private-sector activity are more important.
On Saturday, March 14, 2020, Changing Gears hosts Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell offered a different view on Ocean State goings on and beyond!
- The link to Joe Biden’s coronavirus plan starts w/campaign donation page.
- Coronavirus dangers, overreaction, political one-upsmanship & impact on RI businesses.
- Len Lardaro’s compelling remarks about what RI officials are still not doing to grow the state’s economy.
- Truckers file request for preliminary injunction to stop RI’s collection of truck tolls.
On Saturday, March 7, 2020, Changing Gears hosts Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell offered a different view on Ocean State goings on:
- Caw! Another set of coattails out of RI for gov crashes.
- Susan Wynne calls in to announce a new voice of reason, RI Women for Freedom & Prosperity.
- RI selling overweight permits yet “trucks do all the damage.”
- Rob Cote calls in about Warwick DPW’s awful quality control for road construction.
How is it possible that people don’t look at stories like the problems at the Rhode Island Veterans Home — which are very common in the Ocean State and around the country — and conclude that the notion of ever-more government involvement in our lives is the wrong way to go?
The narrow doorways are one of many issues at the home fueling frustration among residents, families and employees. Expensive equipment goes unused, visually aesthetic rooms sit empty and the crown jewel – an eye-grabbing galley at the center of the home – has served more as a venue for lavish parties thrown by outside groups than as a central dining room for residents.
Multiple people told Target 12 that Veterans Home employees staffed at least some of those events, raising questions about whether taxpayer money went toward private parties held at a publicly funded nursing home for veterans.
If one were to evaluate this as a grant-funded project from a non-profit organization or something, the conclusion would have to be that the entity took on a project that it was not competent to complete.
Those things happen across the economy and in every sector, of course, but governments are the the one sector that can’t go out of business. So why do we keep imagining that the same system will get the next great-sounding project done right?
The all-powerful director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, Peter Alviti, has invoked the authority granted to him by Gov. Gina Raimondo and General Assembly to double the toll rate at Oxford Street overpass. The increase is justified by a nebulous, internally-concocted cost-benefit formula.
I am reminded of the very telling testimony of one Mike Riley, my friend and the former head of the Connecticut Motor Truck Association, who joined us in opposition to RhodeWorks before the House Finance Committee back in 2015.
He stated: “Methinks your director protests too much. He wants way too much authority and you ought not give it to him. You ought to stop. You ought to think about this. Remember the highway intersection sign: Stop, look and listen.”
With the General Assembly’s self-proclaimed “firewall” against car tolls currently taking on water, the recently-announced move by RIDOT to “nationalize” the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and this latest toll increase maneuver, I urge Rhode Islanders to “stop, look and listen.”
Methinks (MeKnows) you are next on the establishment’s “cost-benefit” menu. After all, the formula is very simple: your cost will always be to their benefit.
Guest: Chris Maxwell, RI Trucking Association, www.ritrucking.org
Host: Richard August Time: 30 minutes
In a recently completed study the state of RI learned that truck toll revenues have not yielded what had been expected or predicted by the RI Department of Transportation. This shortfall is consistent with what the local trucking industry has been predicting since the state announced its plans to toll trucks. The RI Trucking Association has filed a court case challenging the plan and more. Maxwell discusses various consequences of the tolling and the court case his Association has filed.
As public attention understandably turns to legal developments in the toll case and the very visible construction of toll gantries around the state, it is important to note how the governor explicitly broke her word on the critical matter of when toll gantries would go up and highlight the heavy financial consequences to which she has needlessly exposed Rhode Island residents with this completely unprincipled volte-face.
First Circuit Court Decision Stokes Urgency to Pass Truck-Only Tolls and Begin Gantry Roll-Out
Dead wrong as she may be, at least Governor Gina Raimondo made a decision and stuck with a plan. Her indecisive counterpart next door in the Nutmeg State, Ned Lamont, seems to change his mind on how and who he will toll on a weekly basis.
Governor Lamont’s latest maneuver has Connecticut poised to pass truck-only tolls as emergency legislation in the wake of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last week giving jurisdiction on the American Trucking Associations’ challenge to RhodeWorks truck-only tolls back to the federal court.
In an interview Sunday, WTNH’s Chief Political Correspondent, Mark Davis, asked Lamont the following:
One year ago today, five weeks after the election, I asked you if you were still committed to the trucks only tolls, you said you were. About six or eight weeks later you changed your mind and included passenger cars. Last month, you went back to trucks only. Don’t you think that’s a problem for a Governor and a politician?
Let’s begin with the necessary caveat that advocates and government agencies have incentive to make problems seem critical and to make increased funding seem to be the solution. That said, Alex Kuffner’s reporting for the Providence Journal does raise a red flag worth noticing:
Environmental organization Save The Bay blames the disrepair of the state’s dams on inadequate staffing in the dam safety program, a problem that plagues the DEM as a whole, resulting, the Providence-based advocacy group argues, in a diminishment of the agency’s enforcement capabilities and an increased threat to public safety.
“We are literally one storm away from loss of life,” said Kendra Beaver, staff attorney with Save The Bay and a former chief legal counsel at the DEM.
So, here’s the next question we must ask: Where is all the money going? The state has a $10 billion budget. Rhode Island must be doing something wrong if the condition of dams has reached the point of near certain catastrophe.
To be fair, Kuffner’s very long article does moderate Beaver’s assertion, but in doing so, it only amplifies the relevant question: What’s the point, if it isn’t the need for more resources? And that brings us back to: Where is all the money going?
Read mainstream news stories for long, and you’ll become very familiar with the “here’s a problem in need of more taxpayer dollars” genre. Maybe what we need is more skepticism about what the priorities of government should be.
A run-down of items in Rhode Island political news for the week.
A run-down of items in Rhode Island political news for the week.
When a state reaches a certain level of decay, it begins to produce metaphors for itself. Here’s the latest from Rhode Island:
Two-inch-thick slabs of concrete fell from the Broadway bridge over Route 95 just as rush hour began around 3 p.m., R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti said Tuesday afternoon. No one was injured and no vehicles were damaged, he said, because pipes that carry utilities under the bridge caught the pieces.
A crumbling government-owned bridge creates a massive traffic jamb, which is actually and metaphorically an expensive drain on people’s productivity. Instead of getting where they were going, people were stuck doing nothing because they could not move.
And the metaphor continues: The state has accelerated its speed reviewing and investigating the problem and will decide whether it has to restrict what people can do while it gets around to fixing things. Meanwhile, even if the Department of Transportation decides to fix this bridge sooner, whatever road used to be considered a higher priority than this one will continue deteriorating.
As ever, the solution will include a plea for more money, because we’re too busy watching for falling concrete ever to look around on the ground for things that maybe shouldn’t be absorbing our resources.
As is true around the state, the condition of the roads are a constant (and justified) complaint in Tiverton, with a particular focus on those that the state owns and, therefore, is responsible to fix. Oh, they’re on the 10-year plan for repair, but that means at least five more years — five more winters and five more thaws — until the worst of them are addressed.
A local landscaper asks a question that occurs to many Rhode Islanders, in one form or another:
Louis Dupont, said the state “better do something.”
“The state gets all this money from the lottery. Where does it go?” Dupont asked. “That baffles me. All that money. Where does it go?”
Asked his opinion of the eastern stretch of East Road, Dupont says: “The tractor almost jumps off the trailer.”
The state now has a $10 billion budget, and the municipalities collect another $2.5 billion in taxes on top of that. Where does all the money go?
Well, this is the Know a Guy State, and budgets fund special favors, handouts, pet projects, and a substantial pay premium for government employees. Once a chunk of cash is claimed for anything or anyone, it becomes an entitlement that is extremely difficult to take away. When money does go toward infrastructure, cost-growing mandates from the state, such as prevailing wage, drive up the expense to ridiculous heights so taxpayer dollars can’t go as far as they otherwise would.
Big-government politicians everywhere understand that they’re better off siphoning money to things that shouldn’t be priorities so that the public will consent to higher taxes and more fees in order to fund the things that they really care about, and Rhode Island has made that principle a way of life. Until we stop shaking our heads and writing it off simply as the way things are around here, the practice will continue.
But imagine if we insisted on change and our roads were rapidly repaired, perhaps even while we experienced a reduction in taxation. Decline has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it and rocket up the national rankings that give Ocean State residents a near-monthly slap.
The only recreation marijuana store in Fall River is experiencing booming business, and it’s disrupting the neighborhood, not to mention one of the major traffic areas into Tiverton:
“We totally understand their frustration as far as last week because it was mayhem,” said Kyle Bishop, the dispensary’s chief operating officer. “The Fourth of July was insane.”
Bishop estimated that business at the dispensary was up 30% over the holiday weekend and that as many as 1,800 customer transactions were taking place daily.
To help remedy the problem, Northeast Alternatives is considering making some changes. Bishop said the business will request an increased police presence to help direct traffic at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue, to which the dispensary’s parking lot is connected. Police will also create a new traffic lane at the intersection using traffic cones on weekends, Bishop said.
The dispensary will also post signs discouraging customers from parking on the nearby residential streets of Commonwealth Avenue and Heritage Court and have private security patrols of the neighborhood.
That’s all well and good, but a piece of the puzzle is missing. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts collects a 10.75% excise tax on top of the 6.25% sales tax on marijuana, and the city is allowed to pile on another 3%, for a total of 20% of every sale. If there’s any legitimate use of all that extra money, it’s dealing with the challenges that the state’s entry into recreational drugs might create.
In short, modifying that stretch of road to accommodate the cash cow should be a top priority.
Obviously, the more subjective the thing an index attempts to measure, the more subject it will be to interpretation, and WalletHub has made a cottage industry of cranking out subjective rankings. That said, the Web site’s “Best States to Live in” ranking from June has some interesting considerations for the Ocean State.
Notably, the Ocean State is supposedly the 29th best state in which to live… which seems OK, considering Rhode Islanders’ expectation to come in at the very bottom of all rankings. OK begins to look not so good, though, when one zooms out on the map. WalletHub claims Massachusetts is #1 and New Hampshire #3. Vermont and Maine are both in the teens, and Connecticut comes in at #20.
Looking at the subcategories, RI’s worst result was in “affordability,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody. The Ocean State was the fourth least affordable state, after New York, California, and New Jersey. But here’s the thing: No New England states are very affordable. Massachusetts, for example, is 43rd and New Hampshire is 42nd.
So what makes the difference? Massachusetts is in the top 5 for everything else: economy, education & health, quality of life, and safety. New Hampshire only misses the top 5 in quality of life. Meanwhile, Rhode Island only breaks the top 20 on the safety subcategory (at #5). The conclusion is that Rhode Island might not be able to avoid being expensive, but that only means it can’t afford to be unattractive by other measures.
Here’s where the subjectivity of the index becomes important. Quality of life includes things that Rhode Island can’t help, like the weather, and things that depend on one’s values and interests. The importance of “miles of trails for bicycling and walking” will vary from person to person.
But quality of life also includes things like the quality of the roads, which is pretty universally valued. Meanwhile, multiple criteria that the index uses center around leisure activities that cost money, which means disposable income is a factor, as is the ease with which businesses can pop up to answer the demand.
MIT’s Living Wage Calculator states that a single Rhode Islander needs to make $12.35 per hour over a 2,080-hour workyear. However, $1.86 of that goes to taxes. For comparison, in New Hampshire, only $1.50 per hour goes to taxes.
This all suggests an unsurprising solution for improving Rhode Island’s standing: lower taxes, use the money that is collected for things that are of more universal value, and decrease regulations. We’d all have more money to spend, we’d feel better about our day-to-day life, and we’d be better able to answer each other’s needs.
Something seems odd about declaring the Providence Superman Building as “endangered,” making one wonder whether the designation is the result of lobbying by interested parties:
Rhode Island’s tallest — and vacant — landmark, the former Industrial Trust Building in downtown Providence, otherwise known as the Superman Building, is on this year’s list of the nation’s most endangered historic places.
For more than 30 years the National Trust for Historic Preservation has produced a list of the 11 most endangered places in the country to call attention to what it considers “one-of-a-kind treasurers.”
The 91-year-old art deco Superman tower, which earned its nickname for its resemblance to the Daily Planet building from Superman comics, joins Nashville’s Music Row and the National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, among others, as this year’s threatened places.
On the topic, Matt Allen expresses the extremity of the opposing point of view: “This is not an ‘iconic’ building. It’s an eyesore and a terrible investment. Tear it down.” My views are somewhere in the middle, still bogged down in questions I haven’t answered completely.
How do we measure the value of some publicly accessible (or at least publicly visible) thing, like a building or geological feature that has contributed to an area’s character? Who gets to determine what can, can’t, should, and shouldn’t be done?
The simplest answer that conforms with my philosophy is that people who want to preserve it should find a way to buy it with private money, and then to maintain it at least to a baseline standard for health and safety. One complication arises in my belief that local areas can answer the relevant questions differently, so if the people of Providence want to use some measure of public resources to preserve the building, then to the extent the city is acting independently from the rest of the state, I’m not going to tell them they can’t.
This only raises the next question: On the state level, do we want to be the kind of place that preserves its landmarks?
My answer on this one is “no.” Our state isn’t so thoroughly thriving that we can afford nostalgia. Just like protectionism with dying industries, if we manipulate the market value of a building like this, we don’t allow the best use of that property.
Let the skyline change. Let the city’s character change. That’s the sign of human adjustment, and we should embrace it. Anybody who disagrees should use their own money and sweat to find some use for the antiquated hulk.
The grotesque incongruity of some of the highest per-mile infrastructure spending and some of the worst roads and bridges in the country.
On March 19, the federal district court in Providence dismissed the American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls, heeding the State of Rhode Island’s legal argument that their truck-only tolls are not a federal but a state matter and within the state’s purview to assess because they are actually taxes. (Wait, what?? Since when? From the beginning and all through the toll battle, Governor Gina Raimondo and state leaders repeatedly told us that tolls are a “fee”, a “user fee“, an apple – anything but a tax.)
At that point, the ATA had two choices: file the suit in state court or move to keep the suit at the federal level by appealing the decision. They just issued a statement indicating that they have chosen the latter course, stating, in part
Yesterday, the American Trucking Associations, along with three motor carriers representing the industry, appealed last week’s decision by the federal district court in Rhode Island to dismiss their challenge to Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, on procedural grounds.
In its challenge, ATA contends that Rhode Island’s truck-only toll scheme is unconstitutional because it discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce. In its March 19, 2019 decision dismissing the case, the district court did not address the merits of that constitutional claim. Instead, it held only that ATA’s challenge could not proceed in federal court.
ATA President and CEO Chris Spear went on to underscore, “…we look forward to establishing the unconstitutionality of Rhode Island’s discriminatory tolls on the merits.”
[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising for over ten years, was volunteer spokesperson for the citizens advocacy anti-toll group StopTollsRI.com for three+ years and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of 2017.]
The National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board (TRB) recently met to assess whether changes to truck size and weight (TS & W) should be implemented. The nation’s scholars, engineers and infrastructure “wonks” came away from the conference with a consensual determination that there was not enough data to support changes and that further studies were needed before any revisions were made to either decrease or increase the allowable dimensions and weight on America’s highways and bridges. In fact, the group spent significant time developing a plan for future research on the TS & Weight issue because there are information gaps and inconsistencies in studies.
So why are DOT leaders around the country yelling “fire in the theater” as they pin the trucking industry with the ills of our infrastructure?
Along with her budget’s request to increase fees for beaches and Rhode Island parks, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is rolling out the usual message about “investing” in our state:
“Our beaches and parks are such a special part of who we are as Rhode Islanders, and we need to preserve them for future generations,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “The study DEM commissioned recently makes clear that we’re not doing enough now. It’s critical that we commit to long-term investments in our parks and beaches. Let’s make sure our kids have the same opportunities that we did.”
The study noted that Rhode Island exhibits high park use and low investment compared with the rest of the nation – ranking 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit. The study calls on the State to make a strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential of the park system, protect infrastructure, enhance programs, and bolster operations and staffing.
The missing statistic in that summary is anything gauging Rhode Island’s tax burden. Especially in the messaging of our current governor, everything is an “investment.” The problem is that we’re already making those investments. We’re just not getting much for them, whether in terms of infrastructure, economic development, or education.
Another budgetary favorite of Raimondo’s emphasizes the point: budget scoops. When the governor’s office makes a regular practice of “scooping up” money from restricted funds, which are often driven by fees of one sort of another, it sends the message that it’s all really about finding new sources of revenue.
In other words, she’s actually looking for investments in more of the same old insider deals that have drained money away from things Rhode Islanders actually value.
Somehow, I’m always surprised when Rhode Island’s U.S. Senator Jack Reed isn’t better than this:
“President Trump’s myopic fixation on a border wall has resulted in the neglect of our nation’s highways, bridges, airports, public housing, and other key infrastructure investments. But today, Congress is committing long overdue funding to invest in public infrastructure and move America forward,” said Reed, the ranking Democrat on a key transportation and housing appropriations committee.
Oh, come on. Our infrastructure has been languishing for decades. Yes, probably just the contrast with the rest of the Ocean State’s federal delegation, but Reed’s brand of honesty takes a little ding every time he makes a silly partisan statement like this.
These days, any area of political activity that ought to have the capacity to bring us together is simply seen as an opportunity to drive a different wedge.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has sharply lowered her forecast of how much money truck tolls will generate this year because they are getting and running more slowly than initially expected.
The budget proposal Raimondo released earlier this month projects that tolls will generate $7 million in the current 2018-19 budget year, which is $34 million less than was expected when the budget passed last June.
If you’ve watched the toll discussion and rollout even casually, you will know that this development is actually not at all a surprise.
As we jump into the latest unsavory development in the state’s shady, deliberately ignorant roll-out of truck tolls, this preamble is the most important take-away: tolls on any vehicles in Rhode Island are completely unnecessary. The spending to repair Rhode Island’s bridges can be found within the annual budget – and without throwing 30% of the revenue away on gantry construction and toll fees.
RIDOT has announced today that they received federal approval for the balance of the gantries and that the contractor has been issued notice to proceed with construction, with the first new gantry expected to go live in May of 2019.
This flies in the face of Governor Gina Raimondo’s repeated statements that any more gantries would wait until the lawsuit and the legality of truck-only tolls is decided. Just one instance was on Dan Yorke State of Mind earlier this year (starting at Minute 06:00):
Yorke: You said, “If we lose the litigation, we don’t put the tolls up”.
Governor: “We’re going to start with one in February. We assume there will be litigation which we will then have to defend and then we’ll see.”
Governor: “We gotta do one, we gotta see how it goes and then we’ll move to the next one.”
To not proceed with the construction of the balance of the gantries until their legality had been threshed out was a significant undertaking and also the prudent course on behalf of taxpayers and residents.
The implications for Rhode Island residents of her breaking her word and doing a highly irresponsible one eighty are significant. We have received repeated assurances that these gantries will be used only to toll trucks. But what happens if the court rules truck-only tolls illegal? The most innocuous – and actually not that innocuous – implication of her action in erecting gantries for a use that may be legally vacated is that she has very irresponsibly opened state taxpayers to a significant, unnecessary expense; i.e., putting us all on the hook for the cost of these gantries.
A far more ominous implication is that, by proceeding with the construction of all gantries before a court ruling, she is actively positioning the state for all-vehicle tolling. In a recent interview with WTNH, Governor Ned Lamont said that Governor Raimondo told him she is “highly confident” that the lawsuit will be found in the state’s favor – and “later this spring”, no less. (This attitude strikes me not only as baseless, extreme legal optimism but also quite disrespectful of the judge presiding over the case.).
The governor’s highly quizzical legal prognosticating to one side, it is impossible to predict the lawsuit’s outcome. A ruling against truck-only tolling doesn’t mean that tolls themselves have to go away, only their discriminatory assessment. By going back on her word on gantry construction, Governor Raimondo may be telescoping the time it takes to spread the – remember, completely unnecessary – toll cancer to all vehicles.
[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current for over ten years, has been a volunteer for StopTollsRI.com, a grassroots citizens group opposed to all tolls, for four years, and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]