Truth And Consequences For Rhode Island Leaders

RI Statehouse Via Wikimedia

Like most Rhode Island Residents I am consistently frustrated by our states’ government. We have leaders who treat us as if we are short sighted simpletons.  All governments do this to some extent, but RI is special because they simply look you in the eye and say “too bad mother Fffrs.” You see evidence of this attitude coming out of the State House is apparent everyday if you are paying attention. Sometimes the evidence of their disdain is so egregious and obvious I just want to stand on the State House lawn and start throwing rocks at the building. The road works project is the most recent and frustrating example of this behavior.

There is no doubt that this state needs road and infrastructure repair. It’s at the top of RIs long list of problems.  At a minimum the state government should protect the populace, protect the consumer, and keep the buildings from falling down.  The roads should have been on the list of things that gets regular funding, but it hasn’t.  For reasons that are obviously self serving this government tends to focus on political favor and social handouts as its primary concern. In my opinion, state infrastructure and road safety is a top priority. It affects everything; from basic transportation and commerce to public safety and food supply. The roads and bridges are abysmal this is not in dispute. So naturally the political pitch would focus on the one truthful part while exaggerating the crushing need fix it rapidly in one fell swoop. Superficially this appears very straight forward and simplistic answer. It sounds true but factually the method of funding is the real issue. This bill actually proposes a whole new form of taxation. Ostensibly because there is no other way to achieve the immediate and necessary road repairs. This bill is being sold to the population as the most palatable pill to swallow. A pleasant narrative that they will tax a wealthy minority of the population, whom did the damage, and make them pay so everyone wins! Is this really what is going on here? Or are we just getting played in another in a long line of RI state government scams.

The political leadership narrative of an infrastructure problem derived from heavy trucking industry damaging our roads. Just is not factually true. The real cause is typical politics. RIDOT has to maintain, clear and manage 1,102 miles (2,908 lane miles) of state roads and highways, 772 bridges, and 777 traffic signals. Additionally, RIDOT has constructed a 50-mile (80 km) network of off-road bike paths and signed more than 90 miles (140 km) of on-road bike routes across the state.  Rhode Island funds the RIDOT off of the general fund. Like all government departments DOT has to lobby to get its share out of the fund. The RIDOT has been  underfunded and mismanaged. RI residents and visitors pay a gas tax and tolls on the Newport bridge, we pay a steep sales tax on cars, elevated fees on registrations and inspections. Commercial vehicles pay more, especially diesel fueled ones. All that money should be additional for DOT revenue beyond its basic budget. Realistically, RI is continually under-funding the DOT by stealing from Peter to pay Paul for 30 years, if not longer. Originally those revenues were supposed to be earmarked for DOT, excluding the sales tax of course. For the most part it has been neglected and the politicians do not deny this fact. It has a 464 million dollar budget, which sounds like a lot of money, but it is tiny portion of the states 9 BILLION dollar budget. Massachusetts spends 2 Billion on the same department.  Although it is a bigger state and a larger population they suffer from the same road conditions RI does. Despite the Governors’ narrative, truth is every state has truck traffic, not every state tolls, despite equal trucking we are last in infrastructure. It is a lie! We are not last due to trucks rather due to neglect.

If we assume that we will collect the amounts of money promised from truck tolls the state hardly has a track record of appropriate use. Voter referendum bond issues for RI roads and bridges repair have appeared in just about every presidential election cycle. Without exception they have passed. The Obama administration gave hundreds of millions of dollars to RI during the recession to put people to work. Work that was supposed to be used for the interstates and infrastructure. Yet the state squandered that money. Primarily in the general fund where the money was absorbed and redirected to cover expenses and pet projects that the state wanted funded. You can’t use federal money to fund state projects, but you can ear mark it for the DOT and then withdraw the amount you need for your pet project from the states planned allocation of the DOT budget. This was done, over and over again there-by reducing the states’ contribution to DOT so that the bond money and the federal money ended up being a modest gain for the department. Despite the money getting the state to repair the Washington bridge and the Pawtucket river bridge it didn’t happen until they almost fell down.

RI Road Works Public Announcement Gov. Raimondo,

No one can deny that the road repair bill has come due and we have a large infrastructure problem. Kicking the can down the road needs to stop. On that point we can all agree. I also agree that the current Governor, who offers this plan, had little part in producing the problem. That is not true for the legislature. The current leadership was a part of the problem, even if they weren’t in the leadership at that time. (most of those are serving prison terms). So I get it, we have to do something, and not do business as usual.

What frankly pisses me off is the insistence by the current leadership that the only way they can fund this repair is by tolls. Specifically truck tolls. A political soft sell by motivated representatives in a election year. Suggesting a new broad tax on a minority, with huge future repercussions for the majority. Ostensibly doing this to “pay the piper”, meaning pay(us) the piper (them). This is by no means a new take on RIs’ problems, this is just business as usual. Instead of taking a hard look at where the money was diverted and trying to reclaim the revenue the leadership comes up with a new revenue stream. Same dance different tune. They have learned nothing! Worse they have set us all up for the next round of screw you very much RI.

The truth is that they really don’t want you to think about the impact of toll towers and what this means for us all. Apathy breeds contempt and this idea is obviously contemptuous of our intelligence betting were apathetic. Wagering that we are distracted enough with daily life to squeak this right by.  A Candy coated tax in a false narrative. Namely- Put up tolling gantries which will only be used for the express purpose tolling large trucks. Protecting us by putting in this bill the legal necessity of requiring a voter initiative to expand the tolls to cars. Promising that this expected income we will fix the roads, and give RI residents thousands of jobs. Tolling only large trucks will easily cover the cost of the road repairs, toll towers, and collection/enforcement costs. Draining revenue from the major cause of the problem as well as keeping the tax of off the residents. What could be better? Win win for all! Right?

It is all one big candy coated load of Bullshit! That right I say bullshit!

Either now, or 5 years from now, you will be paying tolls on your personal vehicle. Although speculation there is plenty of evidence. Here is where I put on my Kreskin hat and predict the future. I see a near future where the stat is backed into another financial corner due to tolling shortfalls. I predict that the leadership at that time will sell passenger vehicle tolls as a desperate necessity. Softening the political impact with another round of useless promises like “in-state vehicles will pay only a small amount(at first) out of state will pay a much bigger toll.” If you believe that the state has done its homework, nailed it on the math, and accurately predicted truckers response you may believe that passenger tolls are unlikely. I do not. Mark my words… If you let them put these collection devices up you are a pen swipe away from paying a tolls to go Christmas shopping at the Warwick mall.

Lie#1- The law will need a voter  referendum to expand to passenger vehicles.

False.  It is true that if the law remains unchanged they can’t just flip a switch and start tolling cars. The legislature would have to use a pen first, then flip a switch. Nothing stops them from changing the law to eliminate this “protection.”  This can be done without any voter referendum or ballot question. I will happen on a off election year I predict. You see this law,  like any other, can be changed by a majority vote of representatives. I predict it will happen in an early post election cycle, leaders gambling that you will get over the anger before the next election cycle. Truth is only a constitutional change offers any protection from tolling cars, any law can be redone. The speaker of course discarded the idea that a constitutional amendment would be helpful. Hmmmm, I wonder why??  Just by the swipe of a pen this Governor, or the next one, can easily sign a new law which removes the voter referendum. Just like that cars are tolled, you get no vote, the end! This pointless add on to the new bill is a transparent distraction to put you back to sleep on this issue. It has no teeth it is a lie.

Lie#2- Only large trucks will be tolled.

There is no way that you can say that with certainty.  Truth is they don’t know if they can actually pick and choose what vehicles can be tolled on a federal interstate. There is no precedent for this. Never mind the lawsuits that are sure to follow. I put my nickle down on, they can’t and in the end they will have to toll everyone. Political regret, albeit with a shrugy comment “well we will restrict cars to a dime” or some other ridiculous number. Once they have millions invested in the equipment and it actually starts tolling only trucks does the issue become legally actionable. Then someone can litigate it. That’s right folks! They don’t know if it is possible, and they can’t be litigated until they actually start to toll trucks. Meanwhile we will already have millions of dollars in gantries and millions in road repairs underway. Suddenly when they find out the whole idea of only truck tolls is bullshit, what do you think they are going to do then? Shut down the equipment fire all the construction workers and cancel the contracts. No way, its over, enjoy paying your 2 bucks to go from garden city to the east side people.

Lie #3- If you are against this plan your against repairing the roads.

False, completely false. I am against funding road repairs this way. I am against it because they are using the roads to develop a whole new form of taxation. A government that is drug addict with money is trying to back into a whole new way to dip into our pockets. There is a plan on the table now that allows for the repairs by squeezing. It is slower and it comes out of the current budget. The political cost being no major contracts, no big hiring, no big payouts to construction companies, as well as slower repairs. The reason that this is distasteful is two fold. These politicians are salivating at the political capitol of big construction contracts to be awarded, trade union support, and the public image benefit of being can do guy/girls. For Raimondo clearly she is gunning for a senator seat. Probably Reeds’ when he retires. She wants that political backing and money from the big construction companies who will put up the gantries and fix the roads. Additionally the legislature clearly sees the benefit of deciding whom will get these contracts. Factually if an out of state contractor bids this, there will be few RI jobs.

Lie#4- I promise as long as I am speaker this Government will not toll cars!

A lie, albeit probably truthful. His promise is worth less than nothing. Sooner or later they will be gone and it will be someone else that screws us. There is no historical legacy of this state repealing or reducing taxes only expanding every single one. A new tax on roads will come to the same place. In the case of the governor she will most likely be a senator living in DC, probably an incumbent with little to fear politically. Known as the women who gets things done a long forgotten architect of this storm. The current senate president and the speaker I predict will have their judgeship or whatever and be long out of elected office. The politicians of that time will be the next in a long line of bullshitters will look at us and say “we didn’t do this”, same dance different card.

Lie#5- Good infrastructure attracts good business and jobs.

Yes and no. To use an analogy if you have a house in the shitty part of town and it is overpriced you make it doubly unattractive. Cleaning up the streets around your home does help make it look better but it still doesn’t lower the price or fix the bad boiler and the leaking roof. Bad infrastructure is just one item on a list of factors making RI unattractive to business. In my opinion, it is way way way far down on the list.  Connecticut spent billions tuning up interstate 95 in the last 5 years. It didn’t stop GE from fleeing to lower cost Massachusetts.  This argument is a dog and pony show. The factors that make RI unattractive are too long to list here infrastructure is one, but not a big one. Corrupt government practices, high energy costs, high taxation , excessive regulatory over site/cost, and excessive workers compensation costs just a few of the highlights why most business shy away from us. It is hardly gonna change our attractiveness by singling out a successful business for an extra penalty tax. A new discriminatory business tax is hardly going to generate the name recognition this state wants to make for itself. Out of state companies who get photos of their trucks license plates with a bill will hardly make us look attractive for business.

Wait, there is more that they aren’t saying!

Negatives on this issue; location of toll towers, toll avoidance, trucks on rural streets, diversion by trucks to 395, rosy overestimates of costs and revenue. Plus think about the traffic impact of trucks changing lanes and slowing down for toll gantries. None of these questions have even been asked yet.

Bottom line people, you know what happened when they put in the income tax, the sales tax, the excise tax, corporate tax et al… They piss it away, and don’t even deliver what they promised. The concrete falling off of the I-way onto Rhode Island Hospital parking lots says it all. Don’t let the legislature get their foot in your door with issue. Call your state Rep, call your state senator, don’t let this come to pass. Make sure that they know you will put them away in this years election and you will not forget with time.  I told mine if they vote yes for this I will actively campaign for their opponent this fall.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) react to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget address. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

The speaker of the house withheld funding for my town because the town council complained that the toll gantries will be located on our roads. His chief of staff tried to delay funding for school busing of children in Hopkinton. This is not the action of an altruistic politician trying to “move da state forward.” A bully and a douchebag would be a better description. I told speaker of the houses office that I will make it my personal business to fund anyone who runs against him, or offers to repeal this law in the coming year. I mean it. To no great surprise they did not call me back. He doesn’t care he is running unopposed for this year . Surprise! He is not worried that you will be pissed.

RI leaders do this type of crap because they’re really really sure your not invested enough to pay attention. Show them that they are wrong.  Stop tolls ri.com can help you do something, and please do something

Thanks for your time.

Steve

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