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Governor Proposing Truck Tolls to Fund RI Infrastructure Bank

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Governor Gina Raimondo is eyeing tolls on trucks as part of the funding plan for a state Infrastructure Bank, which has been touted by Raimondo since the campaign as a way to help cities and towns fund critical infrastructure upgrades.  

According to multiple sources, including State Senator Nicholas Kettle, the possible funding stream would go towards a revenue bond.  

"So what I've been hearing is that there's an effort to get a $700 million revenue bond, and to pay for that, they want to set up tolls for tractor trailer [trucks]," said Kettle. "I was told this is something that other states do. They've got to get revenue to a certain level so that they can the get more federal funding."

Following the recent revenue estimating conference which showed a sizeable surplus for the current fiscal year as well as the next, Raimondo said that had these revenue projections been available in March whens she submitted her budget proposal she would have "used some of the extra revenue to make certain additional investments" in things like the School building Authority, and Infrastructure Bank.

"My assumption is that we'd get more specifics should this come out of House Finance," said Kettle.  "As to the particulars, if it would be through a transponder like EZ Pass, where that would occur, would it be all trucks coming through the state, again, we'd know more once this comes out." 

The Speaker's office said that any such proposal "wouldn't come from the House."  "It would be part of the Governor's proposal," said Larry Berman, Spokesperson for Speaker of the House NIcholas Mattiello.  

The Infrastructure Bank as outlined by Raimondo would expand and manage the Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund, establish a road and bridge funding formula, create a green bank, created the school building authority, and house expertise on "best practices" for infrastructure solutions."

In her proposal, Raimondo noted that bonds were on the table as a funding option, stating that "fully funding the Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund will cost approximately $40 million over the course of 20 years. This money can come from a variety of sources, including bonds, private capital, or state appropriations."

"I don't have anything on specifics at this time," said Raimondo spokesperson Marie Aberger.  "We did the rollout for the bank, but in terms of anything new, I don't have that right now."

Tolling on the Table?

Last year, the issue for tolls for all vehicles on the Sakonnet Bridge was ultimately dismantled -- literally. 

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee ordered the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to stop tolling on the Sakonnet River Bridge on June 20, 2014 following the signing of the FY15 budget.  Aquidneck Island business owners were concerned that tolling on the bridge would be devastating to the local economy.

The Rhode Island Trucker's Association said that they would have "serious concerns" if a toll were placed on tractor trailer trucks.  

"We've been making some calls, but we haven't gotten any details," said Jeff Taylor, a lobbyist with the RI Truckers Association.  "I don't know how they could do it, for starters.  I would think the state would have to appeal to the [federal government] if they wanted to go after trucks on the highways."

"There are plenty of other options for coming up with a funding source, of which we're willing to have discussions about," said Taylor.  "Truckers recognize that infrastructure problems are there, and we're willing to work.  But tolling doesn't work, it's inefficient, with its own infrastructure costs, administrative costs, and third party managers."

Kettle said that should a proposal come forth, his primary concern is risk to taxpayers.

"I want to make sure there's low-risk to the taxpayer," said Kettle.  "If there's a revenue bond involved, that doesn't require voter approval.  They are used regularly by quasi [public agencies].  If a proposed toll that's going to pay for it that doesn't hit everyday Rhode Islanders, I might consider it, but again, we'll have to see."

Kettle said that he had voted against last year's infrastructure proposal. 

"I voted against the proposal last year, it keeps whacking the people," said Kettle.  "We're paying already, and certainly we've got to do something about roads and bridges.  Obviously, no one liked the Sakonnet tolls last year."


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Raimondo Has to Answer as Governor

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Moving the needle?

Forbes recently ranked Rhode Island 5th worst in the country for business environment -- a not uncommon position for the Ocean State in recent years.  Forbes placed RI as high as 20th for quality of life -- but #49 for "regulatory environment."

How soon can Governor-elect Raimondo improve Rhode Island's basement-level assessment and make it more competitive -- and what will she have to do to make that happen?  Addressing the sales tax? Estate tax?  Look to Raimondo's State of the State address -- and first budget proposal -- for signs as to how the direction the new Governor plans on taking the state.  

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Gambling hole?

As GoLocal's Stephen Beale pointed out, RI has no plan to deal with $307,000,000 shortfall, when casinos in MA are operational, and RI's third largest source of revenue -- gaming and the Division of Lottery -- will take a huge hit.  "A consultant's report showed Rhode Island losing $108.8 million a year in casino gaming revenue by 2017. And that was a best case scenario. The worst case had the state bleeding $158.4 million by 2017," wrote Beale.

How will Governor-elect Raimondo deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room?  Newport Grand failed in its bid for table games on the ballot in November.  Will Raimondo let the General Assembly continue to prop up the ailing slots parlor?

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RhodeMap RI?

The previously little-known economic development plan under the State's Division of Planning -- made possible by a federal HUD grant -- has heated up in a big way as opponents are voicing their concerns as to the scope and reach of the plan, if incorporated into the state's broader economic plan.  

Will Governor-elect Raimondo get behind RhodeMap RI's vision fully, and how would she address detractors who don't appear to be going away at any point soon?  Given that there will most likely need to be legislative components to implement the plan, watch to see where Raimondo's leadership is on this issue. 

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Marijuana legalization?

Some of the air came out of the marijuana legalization balloon when former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox stepped down last year, and the notably more conservative Speaker Nicholas Mattiello took the helm, making the prospect of a marijuana legalization bill appear dim, at best.  

The Daily Chronic reported that the Democratic gubernatorial candidates indicated during the campaign that they were "monitoring the effects of regulation and taxation in Colorado and Washington."  Raimondo's certainly given no indication she'd be inclined to consider a tax-and-legalize measure, but as gaming revenues start to taper off, will marijuana discussion ramp up as a new revenue option?  

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Union relations?

While Raimondo appointed five transition team members with big banking ties, she also appointed two union heads -- Pat Quinn with SEIU 1199 and Michael Sabitoni with the RI Building and Construction Trades Council.  

While Raimondo managed to secure union endorsements following a primary that saw them go primarily to opponents Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, the legacy of her pension reform still looms large (remember AFSCME famously hired Forbes' Edward Siedle to investigate Raimondo's handling of the state pension fund, namely her move into hedge funds).  How will Raimondo negotiate with public sector unions given a past history? 

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Pension Lawsuit?

What will come of the pension reform lawsuit?  While it was quiet leading up to the election following the failed settlement earlier in the year, watch to see the next steps from Raimondo -- and newly elected Treasurer Seth Magaziner (who appointed a fairly union-friendly transition team) to see what attempts may arise to reach a new settlement -- and what implications that may mean for Raimondo, the architect of the landmark 2011 pension overhaul. Depending on the outcome, watch to see how Raimondo's political star rises -- or falls -- from the outcome of the suit -- and how Raimondo addresses the financial implications if a mediated settlement is achieved.  

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Budget proposal?

All eyes will be on Raimondo's first budget proposal in January.  What will her priorities be?  Will there be bold moves to improve the state's business climate? Education, infrastructure, tax code -- how will Raimondo choose to tackle the state's biggest issues?  And will the Democratic leadership agree with her agenda?

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General Assembly?

For the first time since 1991 -- when Governor Bruce Sundlun took office -- a Democrat will be embarking on a gubernatorial administration, and Raimondo will be working with a Democratic legislature.  What will Raimondo's working relationship be with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva-Weed?  Will the General Assembly be in lockstep with a Raimondo agenda -- if not, what will the points of contention be?  And with a democratic lock on power, what will the Republicans be able to accomplish?  

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Mandate issue?

Winning the general election to become Rhode Island's first female Governor with 40% of the vote, Raimondo follows in the footsteps of Governor Lincoln Chafee with winning with less that 50% of the vote.  Raimondo however has the advantage over her predecessor by being elected as a Democrat, allowing her to work with leadership in the General Assembly.  However, with 40% of the vote, how will the public who didn't vote for her view here policies and proposals?  Will Raimondo have to win over the public, or will Raimondo take her support from the business community and forge a path regardless?

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While General Treasurer, Raimondo came under fire for lack of transparency for the lack of disclosure of hedge fund fees paid for the state's retirement investments, punctuated by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin ruling that Raimondo could keep certain details of the state's investments from the press.   Forbes' Edward Siedle wrote, Does [Kilmartin] seriously believe that hedge and private equity billionaires entrusted with state workers retirement savings should be shielded from scrutiny regarding potential violations of law?
While Raimondo will no longer be calling the shots as the head of the State Investment Commission, all eyes will be her decisions in the Governor's office.  How transparent with the Raimondo administration be with the press-- and the public?


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