Theodore Vecchio: My One Cent on the Toll Program

Ironically, history tends to repeat itself.  It is as if the world is trying to test each generation with similar problems, issues, and controversies.  We need only to look at recent history to see the mistakes we have made in the past and learn from them for the future. We need to keep our eyes and minds open looking for similarities so we can make the best decisions with all of the information, not just blindly attempt to lead, but lead with confidence.

With the issue set before us of tolls throughout the state to fund road and bridge repair, rebuilding, and maintenance, I suggest we pause.  Let us look at this again, from afar.  Step away from the situation and look at history.

Lawmakers proposed a small hike on the gas tax in 2014 in an effort to raise money to fix, maintain and repair the roads and bridges.  This gas tax will automatically increase very two years with inflation.  This was considered a way to address the needs of the state’s failing infrastructure.  As of July 2015, we are ranked #13 in the United States with a gas tax of 34 cents — direct to the general fund.  Keep in your mind that we are the smallest state by far.

This increase was hailed as the big fix for this problem.  It was done at a time when gas was at a lower rate than usual per gallon.  History shows us that this is not always the case.  This proposal, not two years old, had figures to support it.  Estimated revenue streams that promised us the roads and bridges would be repaired with a substantial amount of money in reserve.  The infrastructure was going to be on its way back, updated and maintained. All based on a well-thought-out, drawn-up plan.

Fast forward to today.  Not 24 months later.  It seems that some of the factors not considered in the original estimates for the 2014 revenue stream were the making of highly efficient, environmental friendly, hybrid and gas-sipping vehicles.  Couple this with the general public not traveling as much due to financial problems and higher cost of living and what do we have?  We have a shortage of the estimated revenue stream.  Now, the solution that was given to us as an excuse to raise the gas tax every 24 months is no longer enough money to rebuild and maintain the infrastructure.  Do you think that they plan to take this tax and future increases away? No, they have reworked the figures and included them in the latest big fix for the infrastructure: the toll program.

As recent history shows us, it is clear that estimates on revenue streams are nearly impossible to create, as you cannot even begin to explain how the impact of charging people money to pass through the highway is going to effect the current traffic amounts.  But in true Rhode Island form, the new program is promised to generate a revenue surplus by all supporters and is the only way we can fix the failing infrastructure.  I tend to disagree with this statement and all of the figures presented to support it.

In short, we have an infinite number of variables here.  The formula as figured allows for only a few of them.  The state assumes that the current traffic flow will be maintained, with some predictable diversion, and that the idea of having to pay for something that was once free of charge will not influence any truckers or transportation companies to either bypass the tolled roads or eliminate state traveling all together.  The supporters also state that a minimal toll on a tractor trailer hauling 80,000 pounds of valuable goods will not affect anyone’s bottom line.  Now, if a tractor trailer could haul 80,000 pounds of goods, that might be true.  However, the supporters seem to have confused the gross vehicle weight rating with the payload capacity, but I digress.

The fact of the matter here is this:  An independent trucker and or small transportation company does not have a full payload at all times.  They run half loads to pay the bills, and guess what… they come back empty because we do not live in a fairytale world.  Truckers use brokers to find loads.  Transportation companies transport heavy equipment to job sites as needed and replace said equipment if there is an issue.

The larger companies will perform a cost analysis and determine the volume of revenue to travel through the smallest state of the union may not be worth doing business here.  The entire state can be bypassed with little effort.  The general assembly is acting like Rhode Island is some sort of gateway.  Please.  Truckers have been doing this for a lifetime.  They know how to bypass weight stations; you think they can’t get around a toll?

The convenience argument is really appalling.  It is much more “convenient” to travel through the state with some of the worst roads in the country then to divert 15 miles.  Fuel cost you argue?  Really? Truckers are more than likely to have fuel in their tanks, probably more than in their pockets or bank accounts.  So yeah, they will go around.  On principle alone.  It is amazing to see how much thought and paper go into these proposals, yet not one iota of commonsense.  Not one.  It’s all about the money and how they can take more of it.

So here we are… waiting for the General Assembly to make another promise based on fractured data. Well, I say “no.”  Taxpayers, small business, and what’s left of us hard working folks say we don’t want tolls.  What we would like is for you to stick to your plan.  Eliminate wasteful spending. Shut the lights off and conserve energy.  Pretend you are playing with your own money and try to use it wisely.  Just like the everyday hardworking Rhode Islander has to.

My family operates a small business.  We deal with financial problems just like the rest of the world.  We need to put a roof on, what are we going to do?  Are we going to charge our customers for the roof every time they come in for service?  We could, but I am pretty sure we wouldn’t have any customers left after a while. If the state leadership keeps ignoring what has been deemed the “vocal minority” they will be left to lead nothing.

As representatives of the people of this dying state, please listen to us and look at alternatives within the $9,000,000,000 budget. I am sure with little effort funds can be found for these needed and important infrastructure repairs.  We have entrusted you with billions of dollars to maintain and operate the smallest state of the union.  All we ask is that you do your job, so do it.

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