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Dickinson Gets Attention, but Offers Little

By way of a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Spencer Dickinson’s play for some press coverage, I note that the Providence Journal did send a reporter outside its door to cover his press conference.  However, I can’t say the reported substance of his presentation is very encouraging:

“The topic is this: National rankings by respected financial publications. They’re bad. And year after year, they don’t get better. They probably discourage some good businesses from coming here. What would you do about it?

“We need a program to deal with it,” Dickinson said.

If Rhode Island wants better grades in the rankings, he said, someone needs to go consult the professors and figure out how to improve performance.

The thing is, Rhode Island politicians have already tried analyzing the the rankings, when the state Senate investigated “moving the needle,” and it didn’t fix anything.  Elected officials attempted to game the rankings, rather than unleash the economy, and they tweaked some tax rates while increasing overall taxation.

We don’t “need a program.”  We need a statement of principle and the willingness to pursue it, and that statement of principle needs to be that government should get out of the way.  Dickinson’s campaign Web site doesn’t provide any additional details about how he proposes to move the economic needle, but based on the issues that he does emphasize, his approach would be entirely wrong, amounting to more government in the way.

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Acknowledging the Beacon Our Ship of State Should Follow

My op-ed in the Providence Journal is ruffling some feathers around the state:

No one who seeks to captain our state’s ship seems capable or courageous enough to speak out about the destructive and unjust principles of the progressive agenda. Socialism inevitably leads to economic depression. And the confiscation of private property from some — in order for politicians to give it to their supporters — is inherently immoral. Openly violating one’s private space or property rights cannot possibly be the direction most Rhode Islanders want our government to steer towards.

Ironically, the way to avoid shipwreck is shining like a beacon in the night. Recent federal policies to reduce tax, trade and regulatory burdens, and to increase energy production, have led dramatically to prosperity. The second-quarter national gross domestic product increase of 4.1 percent is the latest in an impressive string of positive indicators, including historic lows in unemployment rates across many demographics, rising personal incomes, the return of manufacturing jobs once considered extinct, increasing labor participation rates and declining food stamps rolls.

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Dickinson Tries to Get the Projo’s Attention

A continual question for people who need to raise public awareness of their activities is whether what they’re doing is too insignificant to attract media attention or the media’s lack of attention makes their activities insignificant.  When my blogging first started to land me invitations to cover events, a Rhode Island media personality commented to me that if nobody covers it, it’s as if the event didn’t happen.

That principle has a limit.  If the media doesn’t cover events that actually are significant for a large number of people, entire undercurrents can weave through society and shoot up like geysers through the mainstream ignorance.  On the other hand, a geyser is easier to achieve if the media is digging.

Spencer Dickinson, a challenger to Governor Gina Raimondo in her Democrat primary, is trying to spur that sort of digging after a front-page Providence Journal story about business rankings over the weekend quoted only the other two candidates from his party.  From his press release:

Dickinson, who has a reputation as an innovative problem-solver, having designed and built the first solar panel and the first solar house in Rhode Island, will do more than comment on the national business rankings. He will present a brief framework of new approaches to economic development in response to Rhode Island’s national business rankings.

To make covering the full story easier for the Providence Journal reporters, the press conference will be held in front of the Journal offices at 75 Fountain Street in Providence.

A cynic might wonder whether the Providence Journal is trying to play the king-maker game, keeping Rhode Island’s First Female Governor™ in her aura of inevitability while leveraging Matt Brown to pull her to the Left.  It might be more fair, though, to observe that the Projo featured the two leading candidates from each party plus the only independent candidate who has any traction whatsoever.

Media attention and buzz feed into each other, so what will be most important for Dickinson is to find a way to leverage any coverage he can for greater gains in the public.  Trillo and Brown have buzz almost entirely because they might draw on newly prominent constituencies to disrupt their parties’ front runners, and Morgan has been campaigning strongly and prominently.  Dickinson and the rest of the Unquoteds need to build their undercurrents.

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Fun-Sized Observations on UHIP and Out-of-State Donations

Rhode Island tourism appears to be having some success with its “fun-sized” series of ads, and the branding idea also provides opportunity for political commentary — as with Mike Riley’s quip about “fun-sized taxes.”

Surprisingly, though, I haven’t yet seen the adjective applied to the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  As has been widely reported, the state government is planning to spend another $156 million on the project, bringing the total up to $648 million:

In a request to the U.S. government for federal money to pay the bulk of finishing the computer system, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services this week said its new Unified Health Infrastructure Project budget “reflects the necessary personnel and contracted staff to support enterprise-wide efforts to move the system towards compliance and to address mission-critical operational concerns.”

In other words, despite two years of emergency troubleshooting since the biggest piece of the project went live, the technology still isn’t working as designed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is planning for another year of development work, plus ongoing maintenance and operations.

So what is “fun-sized,” here — the budget or the lines of people that we’ve seen waiting for government services?  One could envision videos for both possibilities:  In one, the camera starts zoomed in on a pile of money and then zooms out to the entire cost for this non-functional software; in the other, it zooms in on a couple of people talking and then zooms out to the entire line of people wasting their day trying to correct problems with payments from the government.

Neither of those videos will be produced, though.  In contrast, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has a big, big campaign budget and is producing lots of targeted videosOut-of-state donations have long donated the governor’s funding stream, with non-Rhode Island donors contributing 66% of the money she raised during the second quarter of this year.

We’ll see if out-of-state interest in our governor is enough to buy her another term despite her presiding over this massive debacle (among others).

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Truck Tolls: *Sigh* No, Peter and Gene, We Cannot Conclude that Truck Drivers Support Them

Every Thursday morning, as you probably know, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti hosts RIDOT Director Peter Alviti on the WPRO Morning News for a half hour plus segment. (Yeah, I know, I find it annoying, too.) Alviti takes questions from callers and spends a significant amount of air time promoting Governor Gina Raimondo’s wasteful, unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme.

On July 19, Alviti ratcheted it up a notch by involving his host.

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Next/Last Round of Toll Gantries: Raimondo Administration Solicits Public Comment on an UNFINISHED Environmental Assessment

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Department of Transportation announced the locations of the balance of ten toll gantries and released an Environmental Assessment [PDF] of them. They also announced that hearings to take questions and comments on the E.A. would occur in three locations on July 27 – tonight, as a matter of fact.

Yes, that’s right, RIDOT is holding public hearings on a very significant project on a summer Friday evening. Quite similar in spirit, as a matter of fact, to the scheduling and location of the hearing for the first Environmental Assessment – in that case, two days before Thanksgiving hard by a cow pasture in South County so remote, the cows themselves need GPS to get there.

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No Space Between Governing and Campaigning

Brian Gallogly is right to lament on Twitter the politicization of the Community College of Rhode Island under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

CCRI President Hughes setting a new precedent by standing in front of a campaign banner & essentially endorsing Gov. Raimondo for reelection. Prior Rhode Island college presidents stayed neutral so they could work well with whoever won.

However, the fault is not all hers.  Gallogly’s response is to a tweet from Raimondo announcing her “second term universal job training and education plan.”  The governor includes a video of her announcement and speech (bookended with words from CCRI President Meghan Hughes) at CCRI.

The problem is the ambiguity between an official policy announcement and a campaign event.  Under this governor, there is no space between the two.  Governing is campaigning, and campaigning is governance. At some point, that practice transitions from simply poor taste to corruption, and a governor becomes something more like a potentate.

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BJ’s Enters the Political Fight

As a member since the last century (according to my card), I’m was concerned to come across this news:

The BJ’s in Seekonk has canceled a book signing that [former Trump spokesman Sean] Spicer was scheduled to hold there on Saturday to mark the release of his new book, “The Briefing,” which came out Tuesday, according to Spicer’s publisher.

“We got word last Friday the store was canceling ‘due to the political climate,'” a spokesperson for Regnery Publishing said in an email.

The story is still developing, and it looks like there may be some conflict going on between the larger company and this particular store:

“After two different reporters called the store today to find out why the event had been canceled, we received a note from corporate saying they wanted to proceed as originally planned,” the email continued. “However, there seems to be some confusion because the store is still telling people who call that the event has been canceled.”

We’ll see how things play out, but it’s easy to imagine some local manager either being worked up or made skittish by aggressive feedback from activists.  Personally, I’m not exactly zealous for Trump, and I’ve got no special affection for Spicer, but I’m less interested in giving money to a wholesale shopping club that gets involved with politics at all, especially when it sides in a direction generally opposed to my views.

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Judge “Treason” by Deeds

In national politics, the outrage-a-day ethos that the news media has pursued since President Donald Trump became a serious candidate has made it a matter of urgency to comment on anything on which a writer might think to comment.  Wait a few days in order to take care of items of more actual relevance, and the tempest on which one had something to say is no longer relevant.

Well, I’m not sure where we are with the whole “Trump is a Russian asset” mania, but for the sake of offering my little corrective to the monolithic certainty one sees among Rhode Island’s news and commentary folks, here’s Mark Tapscott’s “10 Ways Trump Put Real Muscle in U.S. Policies, Defenses Against Russia“:

That “something [beneficial that might come from the Russia hysteria” is a sharper public understanding of the numerous ways in which Trump has reversed the accommodation, wavering and vacillation that marked former President Barack Obama’s approach during his eight years in the Oval Office to dealing with Putin.

Obama’s weakness was epitomized by the “red line” he drew in Syria against chemical weapons. Obama did nothing when Syria’s Russian-backed dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, killed hundreds of civilians with chlorine gas.

Putin subsequently annexed Crimea and openly backed insurgents trying to return Ukraine to Russian control.

While U.S. intelligence and military assets have undertaken multiple unpublicized measures since Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, the following dozen initiatives on the public record amount to a near-complete reversal of the Obama years.

Have people forgotten the truism that we should watch people’s actions, not their words?  The United States is still backing Ukraine and is pressuring Europe to increase its resilience in the face of Russia.  Probably most importantly, we continue to build our energy output, which drains the Russian economy.  Those aren’t the actions of a foreign government’s “asset.”

In fact, they’re just about the opposite of the policies pursued by our prior president, whom a hot mic caught transmitting a message to Vladimir that he’d have more flexibility once he’d won reelection.

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Amplifying Incumbent Protection Program of Campaign Finance

Maybe it’s a trap that has just organically formed due to human nature or maybe it’s a deliberate scheme, but ever-increasing campaign finance regulations are effectively an incumbent protection program.  Consider the next notch on the ratchet, as proposed by state representative Deborah Ruggiero and state senator Louis DiPalma:

The state’s campaign finance laws need to be tightened so officeholders and candidates cannot repeatedly amend their finance reports that list all expenses and contributions in a given period, according to Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown. …

“Mandating submission of a paper bank statement is a good first step, it allows the Board of Elections to easily identify discrepancies, but we should go further and require banks to send electronic statements directly to the [Board of Elections], as is done in Massachusetts,” Ruggiero said in the statement. “Most-needed though are stiffer penalties for repeated amendments to campaign finance reports and not filing on time.”

Having spent many hours working with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit, I can report that situations easily arise that aren’t absolutely clear in the law and can lead to very time-consuming revisions of reports going back months simply to adjust for a $1 discrepancy.  And having worked with local candidates for office, I can also report that even just the prospect of having to fill out these forms is a significant disincentive to run.  If the rules are made even more strict more people will simply decide that it isn’t worth the effort or risk.

The question that arises is whether it’s more important for our democracy to be able to trace every penny that is donated or spent by state and local campaigns or to avoid having more than one-third of incumbents in the General Assembly winning their campaigns simply by getting their names on the ballot, because they have no opposition.  From my point of view, that isn’t even a close competition.

We’re not going to end corruption by catching it in nickel-and-dime inspection of small-time politicians’ campaign accounts.  We need to ensure that all politicians are under constant threat of losing their seats.  The bigger-time the corruption, the more likely the politician will be to hire people to avoid accounting errors, even as the people who would like to challenge him or her out of a sense of public service are tripped up and fined for minor errors and lapses.

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Super Governor Promotes Basic Services (with Big Bucks)

What’s one advantage of having an unprecedented war chest to fund the re-election campaign of an unpopular governor?  Well, as Spencer Rickert points out from Smithfield, the candidate can buy town-specific videos naming specific road repair projects that were “fixed by” the candidate:

Gina Raimondo fixed Capron Road Bridge in Smithfield to make Rhode Islanders safer and put our construction crews back to work. Under Gina’s leadership, we have already fixed more than 75 bridges and roads, in every community in Rhode Island, as part of a 10-year, $4.7 billion investment in the state’s infrastructure.

No, the video does not provide any evidence that Rhode Island’s Democrat governor, Gina Raimondo, was at any point out in the field repairing Capron Bridge Road, but the online video does bookend her initial use of the RhodeWork signs to promote her own name.  Just so, the video claims:

In Smithfield Gina Raimondo is investing $8 million in roads and bridges

If that means the Raimondo family has taking $8 million of its own money and generously donated it to the cause, this might really be breaking news.  As Alan Gianfrancesco comments to Rickert’s post:

She did not fix anything. We did. With our high sales tax, gas tax, corporate tax, nookie tax, toothpick tax and animal waste picking up tax.

Tell the truth.

Over the months that John DePetro and I have been discussing the election, I’ve wondered how effective standard political materials could be (even when inflated with millions in campaign funds) after four years of scandalous failure on the part of state government.  Will people forget UHIP, “Cooler & Warmer,” and all the rest because the governor is claiming credit for fixing roads, or will they bristle at the notion that spending more of our money (including with tolls) to do what should be the normal operation of government is some sort of act of altruism on her part?

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Grumbling About East Side Progressives

One hopes (but doubts) that John Walsh’s opinion is on the increase in Rhode Island:

Our elected representatives on the East Side are progressives, a misnomer if ever there was one. Their priorities are ranting at President Donald Trump, advocating for more illegal immigrants, concern over Roe v. Wade, and other “progressive” issues.

As the quality of life deteriorates here, no one seems to be concerned over the many local issues. The criminals who prey on the East Side are not worried about being caught. They immediately go shopping with the stolen credit cards.

As the elections are almost upon us, it seems all the candidates claim to be progressive. What a shame. We’re getting very little value for the taxes we pay here.

The thing is:  Progressivism doesn’t work to produce the lives that people want to live, so progressives must always be directing your eyes elsewhere.

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The Nationalization of Campaign Funding

When you’ve got a running Internet search on your state’s name, curious items sometimes find their way into your field of vision.  Such is the case with this article about the campaign finances of Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat:

Benjamin also received 11 donations from various attorneys and businesspeople from the state of Rhode Island. The 11 gifts from the Rhode Islanders totaled $8,300, or 36 percent of the money the mayor raised for the quarter.

The donations from the Rhode Island residents were logged on June 6.

The article mentions that Benjamin was in Boston for the next few days for a U.S. Conference of Mayors, so one can easily imagine the scene:  Partisan organizers set him up with an event here and there (maybe he knows somebody from Rhode Island), and a handful of wealthy people were able to give him enough money that it amounted to a notable third of his fundraising for the quarter.

Still, one thinks of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and her jaunts across the country to gather up campaign funds, making up a majority of her collections.  What are these people buying?

Some of them, no doubt, hope to make a good impression for purposes of inside deals, but all of them?  Is this just a broad network of “you back my guy, and I’ll back yours,” thus multiplying campaign donations beyond legal limits?

That possibility raises a counter-cultural thought:  If these wealthy “attorneys and businesspeople” could give more of their political donations locally, there might not be a market for this national network.  Sure, that means they’d be able to give money directly to the people who can give them political favors, but one suspects the politicians know who, locally, is making connections for them in other states.

Moreover, in the case of Raimondo, her massive fundraising haul is starting to look like a lifeline for her reelection, and ultimately, the quality it rewards is little more than the ability to tap into a national funding vein.  At least with larger amounts of local contributions, the funds would be an indication of local support, which would be bound up with local concerns and our own internal political battles.

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The Lead Questions from the Other Side of America

Somehow, it seems like the sorts of questions that John Hinderaker posed the other day don’t seem to be asked very often in the course of reporting on national political scandals.  Yesterday, I summarized the two sides on the scene, and I think it’s important for people in Rhode Island to understand that there are live questions not answered by the standard Democrat-media talking points.

Here’s a marker of what many of us have no sense we don’t know:

Time was getting short for the insurance policy.

Four days later the same team was emailing about rushing to get approval for another FISA warrant for another Russia-related investigation code-named “Dragon.”

I confess that I can’t keep up with the ever-expanding FBI scandal, but do we know what “Dragon” is, and how it differs from “Crossfire Hurricane”? Whatever Dragon was, it apparently had to do with stopping the Trump campaign, as Strzok and Page were eager to get it off the ground.

Now, one can reasonably speculate about what direction all this will go, whether there is anything of substance here, and whether peculiar actions by government agents were justifiable, but one can’t reasonably dismiss these questions as a distraction.  At the very least, there is plausible evidence of an actual, honest-to-goodness conspiracy within government to affect our political process and the resulting presidency.

Frankly, I have trouble trusting anybody who encourages us to look away from that.  What do such people not want us to discover, or is their real fear that they’ll lose their ability to do such things in the future?

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Helpfully Missing an Economic Boom

One can’t help but wonder whether findings like this would be much more pervasively proclaimed among mainstream news sources if the president were of the other political party:

Trump, it turns out, has been the most consequential president in history when it comes to minority employment. In June, for instance, the unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos 16 years and older fell to 4.6%, its lowest level ever, from 4.9% in May. The previous all-time low was 4.8%.

African-American unemployment bounced up from its all-time low of 5.9% in May to 6.5% in June. But that 6.5% still represents the second-lowest unemployment reading ever for Black Americans.

The editorial writers for Investors Business Daily who wrote those paragraphs also suggest that increasing prosperity might indicate a change in voting habits.  And that kinda makes one wonder something else.

If a thriving economy from a regimen of tax cuts and regulatory reform can shift the political winds, the party that these trends would disfavor have incentive to keep the economy from thriving… at least in circumstances for which it can’t take credit.  Indeed, the ideal circumstance (if it works) would be for everybody to have a feeling that their fortunes depend on government — specifically, government with a particular political party in power.  So, corporate types feel as if officials’ helping hands are critical to their success, and low-end workers feel as if meddling laws prevent their devastation, and everybody in between has some reason to feel bought off.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), that approach doesn’t work.  The incentives are all wrong, and the system can’t self correct.

In the meantime, Rhode Island isn’t fully benefiting from the national upswing, which has the helpful consequence that people in Rhode Island remain more susceptible to the false narrative of the ruling party.

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Memo to Brown Politics Experts: Distrust of Government Is Not New

Reading Kevin Andrade’s Providence Journal article on a poll just released by Brown University’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, one might get the impression that Americans are newly distrustful of the federal government:

Democrats hold a nine-point lead heading into the midterm elections and one in five people distrust the federal government, a poll from Brown University found.

“I think so much is in play with the House race that it’s too soon to tell,” said Susan Moffitt, director of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown University, which conducted the poll.

“A lot could happen,” she said. “What’s more interesting to me is the distrust question. That’s going to be with us for a long time.”

Actually, the distrust has already been with us for a pretty long time.  According to Pew polls, one could accurately say that only one-in-five Americans has trusted the government consistently since 2009.  Taubman’s finding that trust in local government is much higher is also nothing new.

We’ll see where these numbers go over the next couple of years, but they seem to follow the economy to some degree, which suggests they might be on the upswing.  On the other hand, one could reasonably theorize that constant media attacks on Republican administrations have contributed to the two periods that trust has fallen this low — and everything we’re hearing about the FBI, lately, should suppress trust, too — so there will be downward pressure, as well.

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Chutzpa and Beach-Front Sign Questions Around Trillo

The latest fight for independent gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo is against the Town of Narragansett, which has been trying to get him to remove a giant political sign from a family-owned beach-front property that his sister currently occupies.  The story has a number of angles that might pull a political theorist in conflicting directions.  On one hand, doesn’t a town have a right to set some restrictions on signs in residential zones?

Even if the Trillo property on Ocean Road wasn’t in a “public” zoning district, Manni said, the sign would be too large. In residential districts the maximum size for a yard sign is 6 square feet, he said.

On the other hand, how could a town (or state) possibly have the Constitutional ability to ban specific kinds of speech?

… since political signs are banned anywhere in town until 60 days before voters head to the polls, Trillo would have to wait September before he could advertise for the November general election.

On this count, the law will surely fall the very first time anybody challenges it, and it would be interesting for that anybody to be Joe Trillo.  Of course, that doesn’t mean the sign should stay.  It’s difficult to have sympathy for the property owners on small-government grounds after reading this:

Trillo acknowledged that the private residential property, occupied by his sister, sits in a zoning district designed for public land that does not allow the use of any private signs.  But he says the town should be working with him to remedy the situation, a result of his family decades ago having sold the state the beachfront land.

Without digging into the details, one can infer that the Trillos availed themselves of one of those schemes that allows a property owner to sell property (or development rights) to the government while maintaining ownership of the structure, or some similar arrangement, thus getting out from under taxes and, in some circumstances, blocking others from developing land that might otherwise be sold in subdivisions.

So, yeah, when you manipulate the law to get special treatment for your property, demanding to be able to use that property for your own political advertising takes a bit of chutzpa.

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​National Trucking Unloads on Rhode Island’s Truck-Only Tolls

This afternoon, the American Trucking Associations filed suit against Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, stating that it violates the Commerce Clause, citing its discriminatory nature and challenging its constitutionality. (View the lawsuit here.) Tune in now to 630 WPRO now, by the way, to hear the famous Mike Collins talking to John Loughlin (filling in for Dan Yorke) about the lawsuit.

The national truckers are not messing around: they are represented by ​Mayer ​Brown, the fifteenth largest law firm in the United States. Heavy artillery has been cut loose on a highly destructive, unnecessary new revenue program. On a certain, visceral level, that’s a beautiful thing and one wishes that this would happen with far more bad government programs.

Unfortunately, a highly likely outcome of the case will be an order to the State of Rhode Island to either desist tolling trucks or make it non-discriminatory by spreading the cancer to all vehicles including cars. Yet not one but two studies confirmed that tolls of any kind are not needed to repair Rhode Island’s bridges.

There have been many unanswered questions swirling around Gina Raimondo’s highly dubious, highly destructive toll plan.

Why was Governor Raimondo only capable of coming up with a cutting-edge, outside-of-the-box program that is destructive and burdensome rather than positive and propitious?

How did RIDOT get the truck counts and diversion rate, a critical basis for restricting tolls to only certain classes of vehicles, so wrong?

How did RhodeWorks tolls explode from $400M (per Governor Gina Raimondo in August of 2016 at Minute 15:00) to a completely open-ended, multi-billion dollar revenue stream?

Did Gina Raimondo, Nicholas Mattiello and Theresa Paiva-Weed truly believe that tolling trucks only, something that no other state does – a “unique approach” as RIDOT itself admits – was going to pass a legal challenge?

But the biggest question: if the lawsuit goes sideways and RhodeWorks tolls are ruled unconstitutional, will Nicholas Mattiello, Gina Raimondo and all Rhode Island legislators stand by their promise that tolls will never go on cars and scrap the RhodeWorks tolls?

[Monique has been volunteer spokesperson for StopTollsRI.com since tolls were first proposed three+ years ago and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

After years of citizen outrage against truck-tolls in the Ocean State, the American Trucking Associations and three motor carriers representing the industry are brining a federal lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island on constitutional grounds likely to cost taxpayers millions.

Tolls Force ATA Lawsuit That Could Cost Rhode Island Taxpayers Millions In Legal Fees

After years of citizen outrage against truck-tolls in the Ocean State, the American Trucking Associations and three motor carriers representing the industry are bringing a federal lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island on constitutional grounds likely to cost taxpayers millions.

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