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RI Truckers in Talks With National Groups for Class Action Lawsuit

Friday, February 05, 2016


Photo: Flickr/SamButler

The head of the Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) said on Thursday that he has been in talks with the national trucking association about a class-action lawsuit if legislation passes in Rhode Island that tolls certain classes of trucks — and the Speaker of the House does not think that litigation would have any merit.  

RITA President Chris Maxwell said that he’s been “having conference calls with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) who are looking at the possibility of taking legal action, and bringing in more groups to do so. 

“We’re looking at it,” said Maxwell. “They'd have to wait until it's passed, and even further on down the road — but then they would take action.  It would be ATA in conjunction with others for a class action suit, including the largest carriers in the country.  It could also be an injunction.  We’re look at a number of fronts.”

The Rhode Island General Assembly has had hearings on the newly revamped RhodeWorks legislation introduced by leadership last week, with Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello having stated the goal of having it move through both chambers — and gain passage —before the Assembly adjourns for the week-long winter recess a week from Friday. 

“I don’t believe a lawsuit would have any merit.  I respect their right to access the judicial system, but I strongly believe this plan is legally sound and will sustain a legal challenge,” said Mattiello on Thursday. “We can not allow threats of litigation to stop us from moving forward in the state’s best interests.”

Governor Gina Raimondo’s office did not respond to request for comment on the threat of litigation. 

Truckers on Record

“The Governor has mentioned denying access to our trucks on secondary roads — they started talking about taking away access.  They're really barking up the wrong tree,” said Maxwell. “So starting to impede commerce is one thing. We're also looking at them discriminating against only some classes of vehicles, who would face being charged with shouldering the burden.”

Maxwell said that the “ongoing negativity against truckers” was starting to resonate in the industry. 

“The CB radios, the chatter — I mean, the Governor called us ‘laughable’ - is out there. Meanwhile she’s siphoning off billions for others,” said Maxwell. “She said in her budget speech this week that this is the ‘politics of procrastination?’ There's been a long thoughtful debate on this. RhodeWorks is a Hail Mary. We feel that it will make 38 Studios and DEPCO look like petty larceny — and this is the big heist.”

On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council released their fiscal analysis of the RhodeWorks proposal — as well as other hypothetical scenarios for comparison — and determined the short term local costs would be the highest with tolling, but that over time truck tolls would take in millions more than needed to administer the program. 

“I think what the RIPEC report shows is that [state government] is developing a slush fund,” said Maxwell. “And that’s their goal.  While we respect the report and the spirit of what RIPEC was doing with their analysis, we feel there will be an underperformance [with tolling] and there won't nearly be a slush fund like that.”

Mattiello said this week that he “respected” the report as put forth by RIPEC — and noted that the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce is one of the groups backing the current RhodeWorks plan.

Maxwell continued to disagree with the position put forth by leadership.

“They’ve shown from day one they don't know a thing about trucks, the behavior of truckers,” said Maxwell. “This is a gamble -- they have no way to quantify what they’ll eventually take in from tolls. Trucks run on pennies, I can convince you parts of the state will become a no-fly zone."

“They're scapegoating our industry,” said Maxwell. “It's not the way to go. You don't take an industry that's critical to your economic engine - and go taxing and offending it. Trucking is the big gentle animal that rolls around. You poke the bear, and you're going to get it back ten fold.”


Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY17 Budget Proposal

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School Infrastructure

An $80 million appropriation for construction and renovation, including of $9.1 million for the school building authority.

A $40 million general obligation bond to renovate and modernize school facilities with a focus on immediate health and safety, and investing in STEAM learning spaces.

A requirement that all schools post their actual budget online.

The Governor continues to address the pressing needs of the state’s children and the condition of the schools they attend in her FY17 budget proposal; the public could have the opportunity to follow-suit by approving the general obligation bond in November — or not. 

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While the Governor delved little into structural healthcare issues in her budget address on Tuesday (she did propose a multi-million dollar comprehensive strategy to address the opioid overdose epidemic which includes medication assisted treatments at the prisons, and $187,000 to combat lead poisoning), 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

“The Hospital Association of Rhode Island applauds Governor Raimondo’s commitment to strengthening our state’s health care system,” said Michael R. Souza, president, Hospital Association of Rhode Island.  “Although hospitals will face reductions in the proposed budget, we look forward to working with the General Assembly and Administration to implement lasting solutions that provide us the resources and tools necessary to transform the health care delivery system. Hospitals will continue to invest in innovation, technology, and a high-quality workforce with the continued support of our State partners.”

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Affordable Housing Advocates

Proponents of affordable housing opportunities in the state notched a preliminary victory by landing a spot in the Governor's’s budget.  Now they need to make it through the General Assembly — and garner approval from voters in November. 

Said the Housing Network of RI following Raimondo's budget address:

The Housing Network of Rhode Island and its membership of sixteen nonprofit affordable housing developers wish to thank Governor Raimondo for recognizing the importance of state investment in housing opportunities for low and moderate income Rhode Islanders. As we all work together to reinvigorate the state’s economy, affordable housing development plays a critical role in our state’s recovery plan. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion of an affordable housing bond in her FY 17 budget will not only stimulate the creation of new housing and boost economic growth by creating jobs in the construction, retail and service industries, but will also bring substantial additional outside financial resources into our state. 

Data shows that many Rhode Island households continue to struggle to find housing options that are affordable to them. According to HousingWorks RI, two in every five Rhode Island households are cost burdened, spending more than thirty percent of their income on housing. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion of an affordable housing bond recognizes this need and is a notable step towards addressing a major need of working class Rhode Islanders. We commend Governor Raimondo’s efforts and are grateful for her leadership on such an important issue.  

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Recent Grads

Raimondo continues to try to stave off the “brain drain” in Rhode Island by supporting incentives to keep recent college grads in the state.   

In her FY17 budget proposal, the Governor upped the Wavemaker Fellowship to $5 million to increase the loan forgiveness program, and through the Ocean State Grad Grant looks continue funding through RI Housing to provide recent college graduates with up to $7,000 in down payment assistance on a first home.

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Minimum Wage Increase 

Good for employees, not so much for business owners.  The Governor has proposed raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10, making good on her campaign promise to do so (albeit one year later that planned).

The business community including the National Federation of Independent Business, who said that “any increase in the minimum wage will impact job create at small businesses for younger, less experience workers," continues to push back on the issue. The same arguments were made last year when the state raised the minimum wage to $9.60; watch and see if any new approaches are taken by employers during the session related to the issue. 

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Increase in Cigarette Tax

First blush win for the state — the state gets more revenue ($7.1 million) by increasing the cigarette tax twenty-five cents from $3.75 to $4.00.  The price per pack would still be less than neighboring Massachusetts ($9.78 in RI vs $10.18 if it goes through — it’s now currently $9.49 in RI). More Rhode Islanders might be deterred from smoking with the increased cost.

The National Federation of Independent Business, however, said the proposed increase in the cigarette tax will hurt small convenience stores. When CVS stopped selling cigarettes, those smaller stores undoubtedly saw the windfall.  Can they absorb a small tax increase?

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Medical Marijuana Caregivers - and State of Rhode Island

The RIDOH and DBR along with the State Police are calling for medical marijuana caregivers and cultivators to now pay an annual fee for a tag on every medical marijuana plant.  The state entities claim that “under current law, the caregiver market lacks accountability and oversight” as opposed to compassion centers.  The state agencies say that the tags amount to just 2 percent of the value of the marijuana produced. 

The Governor and the General Assembly however need to address an underlying issue that has plagued them since the implementation of the medical marijuana — which is that the oversight committee as mandated by law has never once met.  The state should be included on the “loser” list for failing to adhere to the mandate as required by law, as they would have the input from stakeholder and empirical evidence to what is working — or not — in the current law.  Instead, the state is clamping down with zero input from the community. 

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Home Care Agencies

The Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care blasted Raimondo's budget almost immediately after its unveiling:

“Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget does not provide for the substantial increase needed for home care agencies to comply with new federal and state mandates, the increased cost for delivering healthcare services in the home, the barriers that Rhode Islanders face when accessing home care, and the ability for home care agencies to retain direct care workers.”, said Nicholas Oliver, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care. 

While the Governor proposed a seven-percent increase for Medicaid home and community-based long-term services and supports, including personal care attendant services provided by contracted home care agencies, the Governor also proposed another increase in the state’s minimum wage from $9.60 per hour to $10.10 per hour, a 50 cent increase. Because the current average home care aide starting wage is $10.50 per hour, the proposed increase, earmarked toward direct care worker wages, increases the wage to a minimum $11.00 per hour, but without financial support for compliance to the employer mandate for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act for home care agency employees and compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor overtime and travel rules impacting home care. Oliver added, “The Governor’s proposed increase is nothing more than an inflation adjustment that otherwise establishes a ninth consecutive year of frozen rates. This budget proposal does not reflect in writing what the Governor has publicly stated in the past year, such as the need to rebalance long-term care, the need to shift funding toward home and community-based healthcare services over nursing homes, and her interest to establish a comparable wage for home care workers to their counterparts throughout the healthcare sector.” 

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Fiscal Conservatives

Governor Gina Raimondo's budget proposal raised some eyebrows in Republican (and Libertarian) circles for the expansive role of the state government in market-based conditions. 

Justin Katz with the free-market Center for Freedom and Prosperity offered the following budget release. 

After budget addresses from progressive governors, free-market commentators frequently refer to the budget's focus on special interests, but Governor Raimondo's fiscal year 2017 budget is a stunningly special-interest budget.  Nearly every item is directly targeted toward a particular narrow group of recipients.  It's the kind of budget a chief executive puts forward when she doesn't trust the people of her state to make their own decisions.  For example, despite a projected increase of $85 million in income and sales taxes, next year, the governor offers offers no broadbased tax reductions.  In fact, she wants to add nearly $250 million in debt to the $300 million she wants to incur without voter approval for her RhodeWork's program.
In short, this budget doubles down on the strategy of remaking Rhode Island in the governor's image.  If you fit her vision for the state, there's money for you.  If you're one of the existing special interests, in Rhode Island, you'll like what you're getting.  But if you're a regular Rhode Island chasing your own dreams according to your own lights and supporting your own responsibilities, you'll find yourself holding the bill, and without subsidies. 

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Toll Opponents

It comes as no surprise that the Governor remains committed to pushing through her newly revised RhodeWorks plan — which includes truck tolls — to address the state’s infrastructure needs.  On Tuesday, Raimdondo said the state needs to “stop playing the politics of procrastination” with fixing the state’s bridges and roads.

Pay-go proponents — as well as public-private partnership ones — will have a short window to contest the Governor’s new plan to have a $300 million Garvee bond in order to support the program, which is on the fast track for consideration at the General Assembly with the Speaker’s stated goal of sealing the deal before the body breaks for February vacation.

Expect the opposition to remain heated in these coming weeks, however. 


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