To the editor:
With the budget season well underway at the State House, legislators from the East Bay should be ready to fight for their constituents and be much better prepared than they were last year with regards to the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
The sad commentary on our present state of affairs is that we never even had to be in this situation, had our local delegation realized the influence they could have had. Under the state constitution, the speaker needs at least 50 votes to pass a budget. Debates over the 38 Studios bond repayment and other issues led to a close and contentious final vote of 52-20 on the budget. Had our local legislators not voted for the budget last year because of the tolls, the budget would have failed on a vote of 46-28 until the tolls were permanently removed. Unfortunately, our delegation succumbed to pressure from leadership.
With regards to the coming fight over tolls and the larger budget, every representative and senator from the East Bay should vow to vote against the 38 Studios funding until the tolls are permanently removed, allowing for a true statewide funding solution to be debated and detached completely from the tolls issue.
Unfortunately, the recent legislation proposed by our local legislators that would fund bridge maintenance by raising taxes and fees and adding to our debt, while a possible path forward for funding infrastructure throughout our state, is unlikely to be supported by legislators from other communities who clearly can see that this is only an attempt to get rid of the tolls. In other words, is it logical to assume that other legislators would be more likely to raise taxes on their constituents, as opposed to allowing the tolls to simply remain unchanged when it will only affect the East Bay? I think not.
A true statewide, comprehensive funding scheme as a means of improving our transportation infrastructure is an admirable goal, and one that the General Assembly should have passed into law years ago. Our local legislators should have proposed it before the tolls became the favored revenue scheme of the governor and absolved us of this issue entirely. In the mean time, they should start counting votes and realize they actually can make some progress on this issue for us.
Daniel P. Reilly