RITBA approves toll delay— with warnings

Sakonnet River Bridge automated toll gantry. Sakonnet River Bridge automated toll gantry.

Sakonnet River Bridge automated toll gantry.

Sakonnet River Bridge automated toll gantry.

Less than two weeks before higher Sakonnet River Bridge tolls were due to kick in, both the state Senate and House budget committees voted unanimously Tuesday to push that toll deadline back from April 1 to May 15.

Votes on both measures are due to be held in the two full houses today (Thursday).

The extra month and a half gives the legislature time to act on bills meant to provide a new method for funding state road and bridge work — one that involves no toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge,  for which many East Bay commuters are pushing.

And a day later, the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) voted Wednesday to go along with that later deadline. But it did so with warnings of its own.

If the General Assembly does not allow it to hike tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge from 10 cents to 50 cents each way (for those with RI transponders; $3.75 for all other drivers of cars), it will turn responsibility for both the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazano bridges to the state Department of Transportation.

And it will raise tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge to $1.04 for those with Rhode Island EZ-Pass; $5 for everyone else.

David Darlington, RITBA’s board chairman, said the agency needs to take those steps to assure bond holders that there will money to pay for maintenance projects, some of which have already been contracted.

“RITBA cannot acquire or manage bridge assets without an appropriate and reliable revenue stream that supports the maintenance of those assets …  The ten-cent, so-called ‘placeholder’ (Sakonnet River Bridge) toll added as a rider to the budget at the end of last year’s session is clearly insufficient to cover RITBA’s revenue needs through July 1 and beyond,” Mr. Darlington wrote before the series of votes.

“When the executive and legislative branches approached us to consider taking responsibility for the Sakonnet River and Jamestown Verrazano bridges we clearly stated that we could not do it using Newport Pell Bridge revenues,” he added.

Without clear sources of revenue, Mr. Darlington said that RITBA is at risk of seeing its bond rating downgraded which would boost costs and possibly force further toll hikes.

A new statewide method of funding road and bridge work was devised by a toll study committee and is now being considered by both the Senate and House budge committees. It would provide about $1 billion over the next decade with money from a number of sources, among them:

• Nearly half would come from dedicating 1.5 percent of state revenue (phased in over six years) to a roads and bridges trust fund.

• As DOT debt is paid down, money that had gone to that debt would also be placed in the fund.

• If the state is allowed to collect sales tax on internet purchases, thus cutting the state sales tax to 6.5 percent, that new sales tax rate would be bumped up to 6.625 percent with the extra dedicated to roads and bridges.

• The only “new” revenue would come from a 5 percent surcharge on all motor vehicles fees, a charge that would be limited to five years.

• The bill would eliminate the RI Turnpike and Bridge Authority except as an agency to toll the Newport Bridge, and would place RITBA within the DOT.

“I think we have a way forward” for all of the state’s road and bridge needs,” said Sen. Louis DiPalma, who introduced the Senate version. The identical House plan was introduced by Rep. Jay Edwards.

Authors

2 Comments

  1. Ray Berberick said:

    Bottom line up front.
    a. Article 20 does not solve the problem.
    b. House Bill 7432 and Senate Bill 2335 are an innovative, statewide solution to a statewide problem which addresses the infrastructure in the entire state and does it in a fair and equitable manner.
    c. The bills simply ask to spend $100 out of $7800 per resident per year in a different manner.
    d. And there is a way to free up more money without new and/or more taxes and fees to the residents..

    1. If Article 20 were allowed to go through as planned….
    a. $20-25 million in annual toll revenue per Jacobs/RITBA
    b. Estimate a range of $10-30 million in lost state tax revenue due to lost tourism and losses at the Newport Grand Casino. I can go into detail on these if you like.
    c. East Bay Infrastructure Fund – all four bridges to Aquidneck Island and all East Bay roads in great shape,
    d. But, RIDOT still has bucket slides and debt.
    e. No money for rest of state bridges and infrastructure.
    f. In a few years, right back here looking for money for the rest of the State infrastructure.

    2. If tolls were good for business, we would ask for them.
    a. Governor Chafee’s report from the Fourth Economy.
    b. Senator Paiva-Weed’s report Moving the Needle”
    c. Speaker Fox and your own 18 bill House Economic Package
    d. All say economy is most important, but tolls will hurt the economies of the East Bay and Aquidneck Island.

    3. Let’s look at the numbers in a new manner.
    a. RI residents pay federal and state taxes. All tax money flows to the state budget.
    b. RI State budget is $8.5 billion.
    d. RI residents from 2011 census is 1,050,000
    d. So, the state spends $7831 per person per year
    e. By comparison, Mass spends $5267
    f. The national average is $5297
    g. The state is spending 48% more money per person than Mass.

    4. We believe we are paying enough in taxes for health, education, environment, and safety.
    a. The state has obviously not been spending enough on infrastructure.
    b. Now the state is asking for even more money for infrastructure which is one of the fundamental areas that governments should spend money.

    5. Again, the state is spending $7831 per state resident.
    a. Every resident uses the infrastructure in some capacity.
    b. The infrastructure problem has now been defined as $1 billion or $100 million a year for the next 10 years.
    c. 100 million a year divided by 1 million residents is $100 per person per year.
    d. Therefore, we ask, that from the $7831 per person per year spending which is 48% higher than the national average, that you spend $100 per person per year (1.2%) in a different manner.
    e. Do not take more new money from the taxpayers who are already maxed out and are rebelling. Just spend $100 of the $7831 in a different manner.
    f. Whether you ask for $100 more from me, or spend $100 less on me – the effect is the same.
    g. Arguably, it is better psychologically, economically and politically to re-direct spending than to tax more.

    6. That is what House Bill 7432 and Senate Bill 2335 will do.
    a. Re-direct spending at $100 per resident per year to fund the infrastructure.
    b. There is only 1.65% new money embedded in the funding.
    c. It is a statewide solution to a statewide problem.
    d. It shares the burden equally and fairly. Everyone uses the state infrastructure.
    e. It arguably would put $100 million a year into the part of the economy that creates jobs and hopefully all the contractors would be from RI. A lot of that money would be re-spent.
    f. The re-directed funds do not come from benefit programs only. The state spends money on buildings, utilities, cars, gasoline, insurance and more.
    g. Money is fungible in the state budget.

    7. At the Senate Bill 2335 hearing on March 6th, Mr. Lewis said he was concerned about not enough new revenue.
    a. Where is the state going to get $100 million of NEW dollars a year?
    b. Multiply the Article 20 toll figures on the Sakonnet by 5?
    c. Send all residents a bill for $100 a year?
    d. Raise taxes and fees or create new taxes and fees?
    e. Or,perhaps the Inspector General could help find it?
    f. It is time for governments to put effort into becoming more efficient at spending rather than continuing to hammer the taxpayers.
    g. If you want to find money to spend that does not hurt any other program, create an Inspector General System. They will find areas of fraud, waste, abuse and inefficiencies.

    8. Take a look at the Massachusetts Inspector General.
    a. Their website is easy to find and use.
    b. Their mission and history explain how the IG operates in the area between the Attorney General and the Auditor General.
    c. Annual IG operating budget is $2.3 million.
    d. 2012 annual report showed the state received $12.6 million in fines and returned money.
    e. The IG helped return $13 million the year prior.
    f. And in 2012, the IG gave the State of Mass – a series of recommendations, if implemented, could save the state $233 million. Just from their work in 2012.
    g. They have been around since 1981, 33 years, and they are still finding money in Mass. Maybe that is why Mass spends less per person than the national average?

    9. In conclusion,
    a. Article 20 does not solve the problem.
    b. House Bill 7432 and Senate Bill 2335 are an innovative, statewide solution to a statewide problem which addresses the infrastructure in the entire state and does it in a fair and equitable manner.
    c. The bills simply ask to spend $100 out of $7800 per resident per year in a different manner.
    d. And if implemented, the IG could find even more money.

    10. If 7432 and 2335 both passed and the IG system was implemented; after infrastructure, the resulting funds could be used to:
    a. Help the economy,
    b. Reduce debt
    c. Help the pension
    d. Give back to towns for schools
    e. Help get this state get going in the right direction.

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