House Minority Leader Morgan to Submit Bill Repealing Truck Tolls
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
“The Rhode Works bill is irresponsible and should never have passed last year. It is a $45 million albatross around the necks of Rhode Island consumers. It will add to our already high cost of living, making it more difficult for average Rhode Islanders to keep their head above water. It will undoubtedly hurt our small businesses who are struggling to remain competitive with rivals in other states not burdened with the extra shipping costs. In other words it will had more weight to an economy that is already dead last,” said Morgan.
The bill would repeal the provisions of the general laws that created the “Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Fund Act of 2016,” which will impose tolls on large commercial trucks.
"In addition, truck tolls are most likely unconstitutional. The American Truckers Association and its lawyers have conducted extensive research and are prepared to submit compelling arguments in court that tolling one class of vehicle is discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional. Despite our many requests, Governor Raimondo has failed to produce any legal justification to the contrary. This leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that her rationale is poorly supported,” Morgan added.
The tolling was authorized by the General Assembly by the passage of the Rhode Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction and Maintenance Fund Act, also known as RhodeWorks, which was signed into law on February 11, 2016.
"For too long, our state kicked the can down the road on infrastructure, allowing our roads and bridges to crumble and fall into total disrepair. With RhodeWorks, leaders came together to put an end to the politics of procrastination and take action to keep people safe. With the partnership and approval of the federal government, we are going to keep moving forward as quickly as we can to deliver the infrastructure Rhode Islanders deserve," said Governor Raimondo at the time.
Morgan challenges Raimondo’s 2016 comments saying, “”last year the Governor said Rhode Island was too broke to come up with the $45 million to avoid tolls. Yet this year she has proposed eliminating car taxes, starting a new entitlement program to pay college tuition, and now buy a stadium. Clearly, she was not being forthright with us. There never was a need to toll our highways."
Morgan Expresses Other Concerns
"I also have serious concerns about how the money is being spent. The Governor forced through tolls on the premise that our bridges are the worst in the country and they are dangerous. And yet, from some projects we observe, bridge repair is not the priority.
I have mentioned the Slatersville Bridge repeatedly. This is a tiny bridge, just 107 feet long. The original repair was listed as $9.1 million. Over the past 2 months that amount has risen nearly 50% and is now $13.5 million. Worse the spending includes a park and garden and scenic amenities. Please don't tell me that we passed the law that will harm consumers, businesses, job seekers and the trucking industry so the Town of Slatersville could have a nice place to grow flowers. Either the claims of imminent bridge collapse were false or the Governor and her team are spending tolls wastefully. Both scenarios are wrong and we should call a halt until we get truthful answers.
"It's not too late. We can still pay for bridge repair from our current budget. But we must stop this detrimental law now before the debt it creates gets unmanageable."
Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY18 Budget Proposal
Criminal Justice Reform
Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget.
English Language Learners
Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent. The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.
The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”
Car Owners - and Drivers
Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.
In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."
The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).
Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”
Minimum Wage Increase
An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.
The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015. Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.
Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.
The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead.
As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”
This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018.
The taxman cometh — maybe. Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.
"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."
Long Term Care Funding
The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration.
Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million.
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