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Not Just Spending, but That Upon Which It Is Spent

Reading about Illinois’s budget problems a little earlier today, an association nagged at the corner of my mind, and I remembered something from Table 5 of the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) report comparing the states.  Specifically, in fiscal year 2015, Illinois was near the top of the list when it came to the percentage of its budget spent on “other” expenditures — that is, things other than elementary & secondary education, higher education, public assistance, Medicaid, corrections, and transportation.

The states higher than Illinois seem generally to have unique circumstances (Wyoming, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii), and with 43.7% of the budget going to “other” expenditures, Illinois is way up there.  What’s apt to catch a Rhode Islander’s attention is that our state is only two ranks behind Illinois (after Nevada), with 42.1%.

That, if you’re wondering, is the highest in New England.  The percentages across New England are interesting, particularly in the degree to which they scuttle some clichés.

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Two conspicuous myth busters are Massachusetts’s relatively low spending on education and Rhode Island’s relatively high spending on higher education.  Also conspicuous is Rhode Island’s low spending on transportation.

Overall, though, notice that, with the exception of higher education, Rhode Island is typically in the bottom tier for all categories, to the benefit of “other.”

What is this “other”?  And why do we need so much of it?

Of course, we need to keep in mind that these percentages might be a little misleading, inasmuch as the amount of total spending will make a big difference.  Nonetheless, the results are interesting.

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One Hundred New State Jobs Would Only Perpetuate Failures & Failed Approach

Both the proven failure of a budget-centric approach and Governor Raimondo’s dismal public policy track record should give the General Assembly real pause when considering her reported request for one hundred new state hires – and other initiatives, past and prospective.

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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

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Why Did RIDOT Replace the Bridge? Because It’s There.

So, we had no choice but to implement a new series of tolls on trucks under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program because the state doesn’t have any spare money and we don’t have time to spare before roads and bridges crumble dangerously.  Right?

If that’s the story, this is difficult to understand:

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell is calling for the immediate formation of an independent oversight committee to review bridge inspection information related to project selection under the RhodeWorks truck-only tolling plan.  …

The bridge is located on Interstate 95 in the area of the Thurbers Avenue curve. It is a 50-foot overpass that will undergo superstructure replacement at a cost of $5.7 million dollars.

“The Oxford Street Bridge has a 72% sufficiency rating which means it’s in very good shape. We have very serious concerns as to why RIDOT selected this location to spend our industry’s toll money and our taxpayer’s limited funds to essentially replace a structure that is in good condition while other bridges in our state are crumbling,” said Maxwell.

Like Tara Granahan, I’m not sure I understand why the state would have to replace the bridge in order to put toll gantries on it, which is the scheme that Maxwell alleges.  Still, if there isn’t some ulterior motive, it ought to be a relatively simple matter for the Dept. of Transportation to clarify its reasoning, no?

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Eminent Domain as a Stadium Negotiating Tactic

Ethan Shorey presents, in a Valley Breeze article, another wrinkle in the PawSox stadium issue that gives the whole thing a “not at this point, thanks” kind of feel:

There is now increasing likelihood that the city would need to pursue buying the property through the eminent domain process, where officials would have to make a convincing argument that the property is needed for the public’s good. …

Officials are seeking to “reach a fair, negotiated purchase with the owner of the Apex property without the necessity of a taking through eminent domain, but all options will remain on the table in order to ensure that the people of Rhode Island are not denied this important public venue,” said Grebien.

So, the property owner has offered a price that represents the value of the sale to him, and the city government is using its power to simply seize property as a negotiating tactic.  The mayor’s amplifying the idea that placing a stadium on this specific property is an “important public” good should make warning flags go up.

People who own any property that might conceivably be attractive to politicians for their investment ventures are on notice that the government ultimately believes the property to be its own.  Recall that the RhodeMap RI plan included maps that made no distinction between public and private property — simply putting down the planners’ vision with the assumption that the government would end up owning anything they chose.

One misconception that the government is conveniently promoting is that the value of the property is its assessment… by the government.  The value of a property is the point at which the seller’s desire to give up the property meets the buyer’s desire to own it.  If a particular piece of land is critical to a government project, the fact that the owner is negotiating with “the people” does not change this dynamic.

To the extent that eminent domain is sparingly reasonable, it’s to prevent abuse around real necessities.  A person who owns the last acre of land to complete an important roadway, for example, would have unreasonable leverage.  A baseball stadium simply doesn’t reach that level.

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About the Other Stadium…

Tim White raises an important point that seems to have been avoiding discussion related to the PawSox deal:

If approved, there will be another cost associated with building a new stadium in downtown Pawtucket to host the PawSox: tearing down McCoy Stadium.

The city of Pawtucket owns the land that 75-year-old McCoy is on, and officials have indicated there are no plans to keep the ballpark if the PawSox leave, whether by moving across town to the proposed Apex site or out of state.

The options on table range from likely to certain to require more government money and debt.  Rebuilding the high school on the spot will mean a big bond and a state taxpayer fund match and still leave the city with a plot of land to repurpose or dispose of.  A private buyer would probably negotiate and receive subsidies for some part of the property redevelopment.  Or just leaving it alone will mean a tax-free chunk of land in the city.

Whatever the final ask for the new stadium is, don’t forget that the project isn’t done with taxpayers, yet.

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Live by Cronyism, Die by Cronyism

GoLocal is reporting that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island plans to move a good chunk of its Providence workforce to East Providence:

Despite making promises to the City of Providence in 2007 to centralize its work force in its gleaming $125 million tower, Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI confirmed late Tuesday that it will be moving more than 125 jobs out of Providence to East Providence.

The Blue Cross Tower is assessed at $46 million, but only pays a portion of its tax obligation because of a generous twenty-year tax stabilization.

Average residents tend to get caught up in rhetoric and lose sight of basic realities like incentives.  Although individual workers and executives do take morality and personal fulfillment into consideration, private businesses ultimately exist to make money (whether for profit or non-profit).  If they don’t do that, they don’t get to do what it is they do.  Likewise, politicians’ have to gather votes and political support, otherwise they lose both their livelihoods and ability to accomplish what they want.

So, when a particular arrangement is no longer optimal for a business, given other opportunities, it will walk away from deals.  And when a politician comes into office who didn’t make a particular deal and is building a different base of support, the dynamic changes from that direction.

Public policy should therefore build beneficial incentives and then let people work out their deals in a free market.  From cutting deals for office buildings to reshaping an entire population for the benefit of a sugar-daddy industries (through, for example, “free tuition”), it is utter folly to accept central planners’ promises that the people can make out in the long run.

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 5: Branding Raimondo & Free Tuition

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were my column on the “free tuition” plan, Raimondo’s free branding help from the Providence Journal, and more on the PawSox scheme.
Click full post link for audio.

I’ll be on again Tuesday, April 18, at 2:00 p.m.

(Note: Graphic parody of the Providence Journal‘s free promotional work for Governor Raimondo.)

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Talking Yourself into Too Much Debt for Baseball

Obviously, there are some differences between a city-funded facility for a double-A minor league baseball team and a state-funded stadium for a triple-A team, but Joseph De Avila’s Wall Street Journal article on the Hartford Yard Goats caught my attention yesterday because it illustrates some of the perils:

Hartford, a city of about 124,000 residents that is facing a fiscal crisis and a high poverty rate, is on the hook for $68.6 million in bonds issued to cover most of the construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat who opposed the stadium but is now reluctantly dealing with it, said the ballpark alone will never generate enough money to pay back the debt. The original idea was that surrounding development will generate funds to pay off the loans and bring in additional tax revenue for the city.

Given the incentives and structure of government, advocates for some big expenditure have a narrow objective to get a project approved.  They just need some authority — whether an elected official or an electorate passing a ballot initiative — to give the go ahead.  Then, decision-making enters a weird realm beyond the reach of the people actually paying the bill, but with a those in charge obligated to continue on the public behalf.

So, we start out with promises and grand visions and wind up scrambling just to make something work without loosing too much money.

Mr. Bronin plans to borrow $20 million in bonds in the coming weeks to cover a shortfall in the city’s budget, and next year the city is already projecting a $65 million deficit.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Bronin said: “There is no question it’s better for the city to have a baseball park than a vacant parking lot.”

Why is there “no question”?  Hartford is now borrowing money for operating expenses.  That’s insane.  Unfortunately, many people have a vision of government in which it is a means of doing things that really make no sense at all.

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Leader Patricia Morgan Files Bill to Repeal (Clearly Unnecessary) Tolls

On behalf of all Rhode Islanders, thanks to Minority Leader Patricia Morgan for filing a bill to repeal RhodeWorks’ truck (wink) tolls. (See her statement after the jump.)

Governor Gina Raimondo asserted the need for tolls as a financial necessity to repair state bridges which were/are some of the worst in the country but, by golly, we just don’t have the will to find the money in the state budget (even though it’s a MAJOR public safety issue, danger, danger, Will Robinson).

However, the governor has decisively rebutted her own assertions about the fiscal necessity of tolls, as StopTollsRI.com (disclosure: I act as their spokesperson) pointed out in a letter to the Providence Journal on Sunday, by proposing a brand new, $30M/year spending program.

“Free” college tuition is at best nice to have (and it certainly would not solve the state’s employee skills gap, as the governor claims). If there is money in the budget for an expensive nice-to-have item, then it is clear that there is money for a less expensive vital service such as bridge repairs.

Legislators can now vote to repeal tolls, secure in the knowledge that public safety did not necessitate the passage of this highly destructive new revenue stream and confident that the money can be found in the budget to repair the state’s unsafe bridges. The governor has helpfully done this hard work for them.

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Is Reduced Traffic Another Bad Indicator?

News, reported recently by the Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson, that Rhode Island’s highways are getting less usage seems like it could be another bad indicator:

The total miles driven in 2016 was the second lowest in the last six years, only behind the 7.677 billion miles traveled in 2014. Rhode Island driving, which includes trips by both commercial and passenger vehicles, topped 7.9 billion miles in 2011.

Two thoughts come to mind in a negative direction.  First, movement tends to indicate productive activity, which would seem to indicate that Rhode Island is losing ground, economically, and which is certainly in keeping with the stagnation of our employment situation.  Second, to the extent that the reduction in miles driven derives from commercial trucks, that could signal problems for the RhodeWorks scheme, increasing the likelihood of tolls on cars.

One thought that could potentially be positive is that I’d be interested to see how Rhode Island has fared, compared with other states, on the number of people telecommuting.  If, more than the national average, Rhode Islanders are working from home, that could account for some of the disparity in a way that doesn’t portend gloom and doom.

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Catching Up to My Traffic Observations, Government Still Shouldn’t Take Action

Back in 2013, I expressed frustration with Rhode Islanders’ willingness to merge early before a lane reduction and let “scum” take advantage of them by driving up the open lane to the very end and described the results when I decide to be a traffic vigilante:

I’ve tended to take that on as a cause of one.  Wherever my place should be, that’s where I stay, but in my own lane, with the length of empty road before me.  Without fail, as soon as the remaining scum in front of my blockade have been absorbed, the line, which had previously been at a standstill, begins to move smoothly.

But as proven by their waving arms and the number of times that I’ve had to sneak on to side roads to avoid road rage once the obstacle had been passed, the scum apparently feel that the moral advantage has been passed to them.  I am at fault, in their eyes, for preventing them from taking advantage of everybody else.

Well, whaddaya know:

There’s a growing consensus among many state transportation officials that when a lane closure is looming, getting drivers to use all available lanes until the point where cars need to merge can keep traffic moving more efficiently and safely, and even cut down on road rage.

The article is too delicate to explain the mechanism that makes it less efficient and safe when drivers get over too soon, but it’s clear nonetheless.  But come on, folks, we shouldn’t need government to cajole us into orderly cooperation.  If one individual out of every 50 or so drivers is willing to stand up to the scum, we’ll solve the problem entirely through private action and civil society.

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Watching the Planners

If there’s a state government agency on which Rhode Islanders should keep a watchful eye, but that slip below the radar most of the time, it’s the State Planning Council.  Roland Lavallee has been providing some eyes and ears:

The State Planning Council is proposing changes to the Transportation Improvement Program known as TIP. The proposed changes to the guide plans would severely limit public input on future transportation projects. The limitations would include a reduction in time for public notice to hearings from 30 days to 10, eliminate hearings at the planning stage, remove requirements for public workshops for applicants and to shorten the public comment period.

He’s posted additional video here and the edited planning document is here.

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Choosing Workers and Independence in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse often refers to the value of “a paycheck, not a welfare check.”  Rich Lowry suggests President-elect Donald Trump is on the same page:

Trump hammered away at the true bottom line of the economy for most people. Mike Konczal, a fellow with the liberal Roosevelt Institute, went back and listened to Trump stump speeches after the election to better understand how the mogul pulled off his upset. Konczal notes that Trump “never mentions poverty. And while he talks a lot about reducing taxes, he never talks about increasing transfers, redistribution, or access to core goods. He talks about wages, full stop.”

And that’s the key to Trump’s economics. If you squint just right, you can see a strategy. It is to increase growth through traditional Republican means (i.e., tax reform and deregulation) at the same time, he aims to directly create a tighter labor market through soaking up labor via an infrastructure program and reducing foreign competition by discouraging outsourcing and squeezing immigration.

Related principles applied to Rhode Island would focus on workers both by decreasing the incentive for them to enter into dependency on government programs and by increasing the resources and liberty at their disposal to expand their work and, if they choose, build their own businesses (that is, reducing taxes and regulations).  Instead, the champions of the status quo in the Ocean State are striving to make more of us  dependent on government (through, e.g., UHIP and continually expanding social welfare programs), to attract people to the state who will require government assistance (for the government plantation), and to give government-selected businesses an edge against their local competition by taxing others more to tax the favored companies less.

This is unambiguously the choice Rhode Islanders face, and it has to be made again and again.  For example, infrastructure projects to “soak up labor” are sorely needed, both for jobs and for public safety, but the choice is whether to increase the tax/toll/debt burden or to redirect funds that currently foster dependency to help independent workers.

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The Hidden Agenda of Progressive Roadway Innovations

Shawn Cohen, in the New York Post, provides a policy blacklight that may reveal unseen motivations of progressives’ favored innovations on urban roadways (via Instapundit):

“The traffic is being engineered,” a former top NYPD official told The Post, explaining a long-term plan that began under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and hasn’t slowed with Mayor de Blasio.

“The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion, to slow traffic down, to favor bikers and pedestrians,” the former official said. …

“They’re not coming out and saying it, but they’re doing other things to cut down on traffic coming into city, things such as taking streets that had four lanes and making them three by creating bike lanes, or putting a plaza in, creating pedestrian islands,” the source said.

Those who follow transportation issues even casually may have seen people argue against them for such reasons, and we certainly shouldn’t assume that our roadways are perfect as they are, but as progressives attempt to move people into urban areas and make them more reliant on city services to get around, each proposal deserves scrutiny.

After all, when everybody else is on foot or in government-controlled transportation, the mobile elite will have yet another advantage.  The source in the article says Mayor Bill DeBlasio “doesn’t care about traffic,” meaning that he can blame others (like resident Donald Trump), but one can’t help but wonder what effect police escorts and helicopters have on his perspective.

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Collapse When Infrastructure’s Bad and Government’s Run Poorly

Perhaps things are different in other parts of the state, but it has seemed that the new Dept. of Transportation (DOT) signs displaying their proud green on-time-and-on-budget dots are mostly planted around relatively small paint jobs.  Painting’s important, of course, but the metaphor of bragging about it is too appropriate to let slide.

Within the first two pages of today’s Providence Journal, for example, we learn of DOT’s botching the roll-out of a temporary lane change, causing untold damage to the Rhode Island economy and the continued travails for people on public assistance after the botched roll-out of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  Now add in Nick Domings’s reporting for WPRI about “Dozens of dams in RI deemed unsafe“:

Dozens of dams in Rhode Island are in rough shape. In fact, dozens of them are in high-risk areas, and failure could cause death and catastrophic damage, according to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

To be fair, some of these dams are privately owned, but if we’re going to give government the role of inspecting and regulating even private infrastructure, it should be doing so (rather than the myriad other tasks government sets for itself).  More importantly, can anybody have confidence in the people who run state government to handle a real catastrophe?  If they can’t manage even a simple lane change, planned well in advance, and if $364,000,000 and years of preparation aren’t enough for it to implement new a software system smoothly, why should we expect that state government will do anything but make matters worse when something really bad happens unexpectedly?

A comment from Raymond Carter comes to mind both as a wake-up call and a warning:

The (very sad) truth is that sane crooks like Murphy, Paiva-Weed, Gina, Paolino, Mattiello and DeSimone will be a fond memory once the progressive crazies take over the asylum. Get ready for $100,000 babysitters with state pensions. Get prepared for Venezuelan style government, economics and collapse.

And in the face of all of this, Rhode Islanders remain poorly informed and apathetic.

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Anti-Tolling Rally Tomorrow!

At the truck stop in West Greenwich off Route 95: 849 Victory Highway, West Greenwich, RI 02817. Tuesday, October 18, at 11:00 am. (No question, a bit of a tough time of day for a lot of us working folks.)

The Rhode Island Trucking Association and NATSO, the national association representing travel plazas and truckstops, announced today that they will host an informational rally and press conference Oct. 18 to discuss the devastating effects that “RhodeWorks” — the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s truck-only tolling plan — will have on local businesses and commercial truck drivers that operate within the state of Rhode Island.

The small group of state officials advocating for truck tolls say that they are necessary because the money to repair our bridges cannot be found within the budget. Like most of the data and talking points that accompanied the passage of truck-only tolls, this is a flat-out lie. This money can be found in the budget. Remember also that, under Governor Gina Raimondo’s highly destructive RhodeWorks toll plan, shepherded through the General Assembly by a flip-flopping Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, hundreds of millions of dollars would be completely squandered on items other than bridge repairs: gantries, toll fees, interest – meaning that hundreds of millions of dollars would be coming out of the pockets of truckers and all Rhode Islanders and going down a rat hole rather than into infrastructure repair.

Adding urgency and danger to the situation, a recent federal court ruling in New York has brought tolls on cars in Rhode Island one giant step closer. As WPRO’s John Loughlin correctly pointed out on air Saturday morning, this is almost certainly why the start of work on the 6/10 Connector was rushed. Governor Raimondo and her organized labor supporters want to be sure to sink their toll claws into the state as quickly as possible by getting projects hooked on this destructive new revenue source ahead of a court ruling. (“Oh darn. The courts ruled that we can’t toll just trucks. We have no choice but to toll cars because look at all of the borrowing and construction that we rushed through … er, that is now underway.”)

In addition to the big red flag of the federal court ruling in New York, it is important to note that no other state tolls only trucks. From the beginning, this posed an enormous constitutional flaw in the RhodeWorks toll law. (For more on this, check out Rep Blake Filippi’s excellent op-ed in Thursday’s Providence Journal.) Accordingly, any state leader or legislator who voted for truck tolls in February took the unnecessary and very dangerous step of inviting the toll vampire into all of our homes. If state leaders don’t wise up and rescind truck tolls, it is now just about impossible to envision a scenario by which the toll vampire doesn’t turn to feast on the blood … er, wallets of car owners. It is critical, therefore, that state legislators who voted for tolls be held accountable. Please go here to see how General Assembly incumbents voted on tolls, where their challengers stand on the matter and vote for the candidate who did NOT invite the toll vampire to Rhode Island.

And if you’re able to get away from work for an hour tomorrow, please also stop by this rally. Garlic is optional. But your presence at the rally and, especially, your anti-toll vote on November 8, would send an important message against the toll vampire.

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Hurdles Enabling a Pick-and-Choose Culture

Although it leaves me feeling as if there might be more to the story, a Kate Nagle article on GoLocalProv has the strong smell of Rhode Island to it.  The Peregrine Group (no strangers to our insider culture) is prepared to build a large waterfront mixed-use development in Pawtucket, but Rhode Island’s additional costs for building make government subsidies a necessity, and the Commerce Corp. appears to be dragging its feet:

“We have a profound live for the site and the city, and we’ve made a “Rebuild RI” application [with Commerce]. We’ve had preliminary conversations, but right now, the current iteration doesn’t work,” said Kane. “It’s just the economics of new construction. In Boston, I can do projects without the city and state’s help. I’m doing 80 more units in Rumford [Center] with no help. Pawtucket is hard.” …

The Commerce Corporation recently awarded RebuildRI tax credits to Ocean State Job Lot (who had threatened to leave the state if truck tolls were approved), and AT Cross (whose former CEO began serving as a consultant at the Commerce Corporation).

Now, I don’t know whether this particular development is a net positive or negative, but state government’s handing out taxpayer-funded subsidies shouldn’t be the mechanism for making such decisions.  Even if we were to assume that government functionaries are qualified to pick and choose the best projects for Rhode Island, the incentives of politics and government are inefficient, in part because of one unavoidable question:  “the best projects” for whose interests?

If one believes in the importance of government involvement, maintaining the governor’s programs becomes a critical objective.  So, when an iconic company ramps up opposition to a new toll program that government agents think they need, the value of handing that company subsidies far exceeds whatever direct economic development is involved, to the government agents.

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Toll Relief (Shhhh! It’s Not That!) for In-State Truckers Falls Way Short

It turns out that the General Assembly’s proposed 2017 budget will, after all, contain very partial relief from impending truck tolls in the form of lower registration fees for in-state trucks though, due to questions of constitutionality, the Speaker is asking that we not connect the two.

With the national trucking industry threatening to challenge the constitutionality of the truck tolls in court, after the first gantry goes up, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was insistent on Thursday that the registration-fee cuts in the newly unveiled budget bill have nothing to do with the tolls.

“I don’t want to connect the two,’’ House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Thursday.

Okayfine, they’re not connected. The reduction in registration fees for this NON-RELIEF from tolls will vary with truck size.

At the lowest end, the annual registration fee would drop from $106 to $78. For trucks weighing more than 74,000 lbs. — which are at the top end now — the fee would drop from $972 (plus $24 for every additional two pounds in weight) to $510. For even larger rigs, there would be a graduated fee schedule, topping off at $690 for tractor-trailer trucks weighing more than 104,000 pounds (plus $12 for every additional 2,000 lbs. of weight).

Soooo, on the upper end – $500-$600 savings per year? By the way, this means that some of the heaviest trucks which do the most damage (to use Governor Raimondo’s logic for implementing truck tolls) to our roads and bridges will be getting relief from tolls EVEN THOUGH THEY WILL NOT BE PAYING TOLLS.

Back to the matter at hand. Approximately $500-$600/year in registration savings for this NON-TOLL RELIEF. Now let’s look at the cost of tolls. At the $40 max per day, a truck driving around in Rhode Island, assuming he operates five days per week, fifty weeks a year:

5 days/week X $40/day = $200. $200 X 50 weeks/year = $10,000/year

Ten thousand dollars a year. Yeah. “Token” relief is actually an understatement, Christopher Maxwell, President of the Rhode Island Trucking Association:

“If they’re trying to help the truck industry, great,” Maxwell said. “But it’s a long way from undoing the damage the tolling would do. It looks to me more like a token gesture.”

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Truck Tolls and Learning to Govern Honestly

Yesterday, we talked about the wink-wink-nudge-nudge falsehood that 38 Studios bonds were actually an investment in the videogame company.  Today, we get another yeah-sure moment as Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) attempts to claim that a budget gimme for local truck drivers isn’t an attempt to offset the cost of tolls for them in a preferential way:

With the national trucking industry threatening to challenge the constitutionality of the truck tolls in court, after the first gantry goes up, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was insistent on Thursday that the registration-fee cuts in the newly unveiled budget bill have nothing to do with the tolls.

“I don’t want to connect the two,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Thursday.

But “if it’s a Rhode Island company with a Rhode Island registration they are going to benefit from this new plan which cuts their registrations in half. If they are registered out of state, they won’t receive that benefit,” he told The Journal, moments before a public briefing on the budget bill got under way.

Well, that’s great.  When courts strike down the tolls as a targeted tax and public outrage makes politicians weak kneed about implementing car tolls, no doubt the General Assembly will keep this nice benefit for in-state truckers.

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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?

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