How Many Times Must the East Bay (and Rhode Islanders) Play the Fool?

The first important take-away of the Providence Journal article in today’s edition about a late-night attack on the Sakonnet River Bridge toll-collection system is the milestone that it represents.  Rhode Island’s government is now engendering such hopelessness and distrust of the system that people are resorting to criminal activity to push back against it.

The more important take-away, however, comes from this line, printed as straight news:

After eliminating the higher toll, lawmakers learned that failing to institute tolls now would bar them from ever doing so in the future, so the temporary 10-cent toll was ordered, to begin Monday and to expire in April.

That sentence is pants-on-fire false, and it illustrates the complicity of the Providence Journal — and the whole civic system of the state — in the condition to which we continue to sink.

First, “lawmakers” didn’t “eliminate” the toll; they delayed it until February of next year.  Second, they didn’t learn about the tolling deadline “after” voting on the delay.  That bit of information was floating around the House floor the night before they took the matter up.  More significantly, the subject came up during the discussion about the toll.  As I explained in early July, it appeared to be conspicuously hushed up, that night.  Very conspicuously.

Arguably more egregious, though, is reporter Paul Edward Parker’s statement that “the temporary 10-cent toll [will] expire in April.”  This is the key language of the legislation that the General Assembly passed and Governor Chafee signed:

Provided, however, until April 1, 2014, the toll imposed on the Sakonnet River Bridge shall not exceed ten cents ($0.10).

The toll (which had only been delayed, not eliminated) doesn’t expire in April.  The 10-cent limit on the toll expires in April. In other words, the legislators dramatically reduced the delay that they’d just implemented, but gave motorists a nine-month reprieve from their full impact.

The Journal’s phrasing is so inaccurate as to be misleading, and those wondering how Rhode Islanders could allow their state to become what it’s become must question how much more difficult it makes it for our democracy to correct its course when the state’s news media perpetuates (at best) the government’s misleading spin. If the news media is going to claim an important role in the support of representative democracy (as it should), it must challenge the powerful, not aid in misleading people who increasingly feel powerless within the system.

With regard to the tolls: Fool the East Bay once (2012), shame on legislative leaders and the governor; fool the East Bay twice (2013), shame on rank and file legislators; fool the East Bay a third time (2014), shame on the entire state.

By the way, there’s a protest scheduled for 5:00 p.m. this evening on the bike path that runs along the bridge.

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