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6/15/2015 Safety and Fiscal Responsibility: Republican Alternative to Bridge Tolling
House Republican Caucus Proposes Plan that Eliminates Tolls

Bridges will be Fixed, Cost Less and Not Hurt the Economy

STATE HOUSE - On Monday June 15, members of the House Republican Caucus plan to unveil their amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. The article contains the Republican’s solution to the bridge restoration issue that has surfaced in recent weeks. Our plan calls for $60 million dedicated to bridge restoration from the current budget.

"We recognize that our bridges need immediate first aid," stated Minority Leader Brian Newberry. "As a result, we have crafted a funding stream that begins the restoration of the most structurally deficient without delay and in a fiscally prudent manner."

The proposal rejects Governor Raimondo's call for $900 million in borrowing as too costly. "The interest on that large sum is between $35 million and $45 million annually," explained Representative Patricia Morgan. "Additionally, the fees for bond counsel and underwriters will consume more money that can be used to put people to work, buy construction materials, and fix our bridges. In total, we will spend more on interest to banks, lawyers and Wall Street than we will on actual bridge construction."

Representative Anthony Giarrusso concurred. "We give nearly $500 million dollars annually to the agency, but they don't have enough to repair and maintain our bridges. A major culprit is debt. We were told that tens of millions of dollars of RIDOT's budget is used to pay principal and interest payments on old debt. Excessive borrowing in the past diverts money from fixing Rhode Island’s roads today. More borrowing is not the way to go."

"Make no mistake, we taxpayers will pay for the Governor's proposed borrowing, whether through the higher cost of goods or, if toll collections don't meet projections, through taxes or an expansion of the program to our personal autos, " stated Rep. Blake Filippi.

"What could cause toll projections to miss expectations? Thru-state truckers might avoid Rhode Island, in-state truckers could instead rumble down our back-roads, or trucking may slow altogether if we are hit another recession when the Fed raises interest rates."

"Which brings up the issues of all those collection gantries," continued Representative Sherry Roberts. "Placing collection gantries on 17-22 bridges may prove too enticing in the future, when elected officials are searching for more money. Once erected, it will be difficult to restrict tolls to only 18 wheelers and smaller trucks or passenger cars may soon follow."

Representative Daniel Reilly recalls the recent controversy surrounding the proposed tolling of the Sakonnet River Bridge. "Research of that doomed tolling proposal, which was much smaller in toll cost, concluded a serious financial impact to commerce on Aquidneck Island. How can we have forgotten the lessons learned there so quickly? RI cannot afford another poorly-thought out toll plan that will harm our economy."

"We are concerned about the impact taking $100 million a year from our trucking industry will have on consumer prices and on our economy as a whole." continued Representative Robert Lancia. "No one can claim that it won't cause significant damage."

"Let's not forget the Quonset Point Business Park," said Representative Justin Price. "Quonset Point has been a strong contributor to our economy's well-being. Over 200 companies in diverse industries depend on reliable and low cost trucking. The automobile storage and transfer facilities, which taxpayers captured by supplying dredging of the Bay, may no longer find it profitable to remain in that location. We want to make sure that our policies are truly pro-business."

Representative Michael Chippendale stated," We are not breaking new ground by bringing the necessary funds to this project. We are merely concurring with the spending cuts Governor Raimondo offered in her original budget proposal as well as continuing the strategy that the former administration successfully used to rein in spending."

"While we acknowledge that no agency or department will be happy with receiving less money in their budget, no one can ignore the urgent need to repair our crumbling bridges. The DOT Director painted a picture that contains danger to Rhode Islanders that we must alleviate with responsible action." continued Representative Bobby Nardolillo.

"We are proposing funding bridge restoration from current spending. Borrowing $900 million as one sum has too many drawbacks and a real potential for economic harm. Our proposal allows us to begin the work immediately and get our construction trades back to work in a fiscally responsible way. Of course, the legislature will need to commit to continued funding at this or higher levels for the next 10-12 years, but the deficient state of our infrastructure demands that sustained commitment. We hope our House colleagues will concur and vote to include this Article amendment in this budget. There is little time to lose." summed up Representative Morgan.  

For more information, contact:
Lisa Blais, House Minority Office
State House Room 106
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2259