Guest MINDSETTER™ Santos: RhodeWorks RI, a Constitutional Pandora’s Box
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
Leadership on The Hill often pushes the envelope with provocative issues, 38 Studios, Pawsox Relo, and former Rep. Donald “Revolving Door” Lally to name a few, but the passage of RhodeWorks serves a larger political agenda that reaches to clear to Washington. RhodeWorks 3.0 has broad National and Constitutional implications. As discussed in a previous post, Rhode Island is an incubator for a National Tolling agenda. The Obama Administration introduced the Six Year $478 Billion “Grow America Act” now in its second iteration and thankfully languishing in Congress. At the core of this back door Stimulus Program are proposals to lift tolling bans on interstate highways and allow individual states to use revenue collected for non-infrastructure use. In Rhode Island’s case tolling revenues collected would vanish into the fiscal black hole of the general fund. RhodeWorks is the state run version of the White House Grow America act, and now that it has been signed into law, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy is considering reclaiming the handle of the Toll Booth State and tolling trucks.
Like ObamaCare, the full economic and constitutional impact of RhodeWorks will not be known for some time. The toll gantries are expected to come online by 2019. By then Governor Gina Raimondo will be seeing Rhode Island in the rear view from Washington. Lawmakers who voted thumbs up on RhodeWorks might consider witness protection before the Constitutionality of RhodeWorks is challenged in Federal court. The provision to toll 18 Wheelers (Class 8) vehicles exclusively was engineered to be struck down in Federal Court. Once the tolling gantries are active, legal challenges by the American Trucking Association (ATA) and other national transportation interests will be brought to Federal court and the tolling of 18 Wheeler/Class 8 vehicles exclusively will ultimately be found unconstitutional and in violation of the Interstate Commerce Act. Smith Hill Lawmakers will then be forced to rewrite Rhodeworks to include tolling of all vehicle classes which was the intent from the start. The provision to toll cars only by future voter referendum was an unenforceable insurance policy to fend off an angry electorate until RhodeWorks was passed into law.
RhodeWorks faces a laundry list of legal challenges and its passage has opened a Constitutional Pandora’s Box. The license plates of all vehicles passing thru the gantries will be recorded without exception, the ACLU has raised privacy issues over vehicles to be excluded from tolling, but privacy concerns under the First amendment go much deeper than that. Vehicle registrations are linked to sensitive personal information that could be monitored and exploited. By today’s standards the RIDMV is still entrenched in prehistoric 1980’s Mainframe technology. Access by a third party is a security hole big enough to drive an 18 Wheeler thru. Given the Federal Government’s investment in RhodeWorks and their insatiable appetite for data, numerous Federal agencies, bureaucracies, including law enforcement will demand unrestricted access to the recorded data.
The revenue vultures have already begun to circle over the RhodeKill carcass. House Rep (D) Robert Jacquard introduced legislation to extract recorded data from the tolling gantries to target out of state uninsured motorist to capture as much as $15 Million in additional revenue. The basis of Rep. Jacquard’s bill is hardly new or original. The argument against “Automated Enforcement” has cut into the First and Fourth Amendments since recording devices were first staged by the Federal Government to monitor the general population’s movements. House Speaker (D) Nick Mattiello has since pulled Jacquard’s bill only to reintroduce and fight this battle again once full tolling of all vehicle classes is mandated.
It may have gone unnoticed, but Rhode Island is celebrating the infamous 25th Anniversary of the Temporary Sales tax Increase to from 5 to 7 percent (RISDIC Crisis). Like all taxes they never really go away, they only morph. Once RhodeWorks is rewritten to include all vehicles the General Assembly will continue collecting fuel taxes and DMV fees that were slated for infrastructure and we will effectively be “Double Taxed” to maintain the same infrastructure. Great leaders have been said to provide what the people need, not necessarily what they want. RhodeWorks 3.0 is purely self-serving to the principles that rammed it thru the system. Governor Gina Raimondo has earned her Washington Merit Badge, and will cash in end of term. Organized Labor has their 10 year plus Stimulus Package, local and national labor interest will no doubt also extend their gratitude to the Governor. House Speaker Mattiello will have the full cooperation and support of the Governor’s office for the duration of her watch.
The seed for a national tolling agenda planted in deep blue Rhode Island will shortly take root and spread like a fungus to other revenue hungry states. When you find yourself on the business end of your first tolling invoice after being dinged by a toll gantry it will be of little comfort that yes “you did build that”, and you paid for it twice. Tony Santos is Editor, Writer, and MuckRaker for RedneckRepublic.org, a Politically Incorrect, Cast Iron Conservative Outpost.
Related Slideshow: RI Truck Tolls Controversy—2016
The 2015 Rhode Island General Assembly adjourned after an 11th hour effort to approve truck tolls to pay for a $500 million infrastructure bond fell flat, despite being approved by the Senate.
Opposition to the proposal gained momentum during the summer and fall months in 2015, and the 2016 General Assembly session began with an anti-toll rally immediately before the body convened.
Here are some of the most important developments that have occurred since over 100 people turned out at the Rhode Island State House in opposition to tolls on January 5, 2016.
Truckers at Odds
On Thursday January 21, a number of truckers circled the Rhode Island State House in opposition to truck tolls -- but the members of the Rhode Island Independent Contractors and Associates were also countering what the Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) put forth to increase fees -- and the diesel tax -- in order to provide some revenue to the state in lieu of taxes.
"Let's get people back to work, take a look at pay-go, and with respect to those opposed to the diesel tax -- RI truckers are ranked 29th in fees that they pay," said Bill Fischer with RITA. "We're saying we're middle of the pack. It's not as though we're third in the country in fees. There's room for legislative increase on the diesel tax and registration fees. We didn't go [Thursday] because we don't believe the solution lies in not bringing anything to the table."
Call to Contact Legislators
Groups including the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity continue to push for Rhode Islanders to contact legislators on the toll issue. The group shared the following on the StopTollsRI.com
SPEAK OUT: CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS IMMEDIATELY TO STOP TOLLS
You have the power to stop tolls in Rhode Island. Below you will find a letter that will automatically be sent to your state senator and representative.
Fill out the form and click the send button, time is running out to stop tolls. Speak out to immediately send a powerful message to our elected officials. Don't delay, act now. Your representatives will listen to you!
Raptakis Calls for More Time, Consideration
Concerned about the number of proposals to pay for the repair and replacement of the state’s infrastructure, Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, West Greenwich, East Greenwich) said "it’s time for the state to take a timeout to sift through all the information it has been inundated with."
The release for the General Assembly said the following:
He has submitted a resolution that would create a special legislative commission to study and review all aspects of future tolling of motor vehicles in the state.
The commission would be tasked with making a comprehensive study and analysis of all aspects of future motor vehicle tolling including, but not limited to, automobiles, tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles.
Hassenfeld Poll Released; GOP Jumps on Results
The Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership released its quarterly survey on key issues facing the State. The poll first asked respondents if they favored or opposed several proposals for bridge and road repair. On proposals to put tolls in place to help fund repairs:
• 43.9% favor Governor Raimondo’s proposal to assess a toll on large trucks to pay for the $1 Billion in revenue bonds to fix the roads and bridges; while 49.4% said they oppose the plan.
• 37.7% favor an alternative “pay as you go” plan, that could still include tolls but avoid interest payments, while 51.9% said they oppose the plan.
The RI GOP weighed in on the poll.
In September 2015, Bryant University's Hassenfeld Institute conducted a poll which showed that the voters supported new tolls by a margin of 53 to 44. But, today as voters have learned more about the plan, the numbers have flipped and now voters are against new tolls by a margin of 49 to 44, a swing of 14 percent.
At the same time, the Hassenfeld Institute poll showed 58 percent of the voters support reallocating money from the state's budget to fix the roads and bridges. Reallocating existing revenues within the budget instead of creating new revenue sources to fix our bridges has been the position championed by Republicans since the beginning of this debate in June 2015.
StopTollsRI.Com Says 75% of RI’s Legislators Refuse To Go On Record About Highly Controversial Toll Proposal
Toll opponents StopTollsRI.com distributed a survey to all Rhode Island legislators. It consisted of one question: "Do you unequivocally oppose new tolls of any kind?"
"That simple question was left unanswered by 75% of all legislators," said StopTollsRI.
“Voters and taxpayers have the right to know where their legislators stand on any issue, but particularly on a highly controversial issue like tolls”, says StopTollsRI.com’s spokesperson Monique Chartier. “The silence is deafening on this critical question."
RI Trucking Association Releases Letter Sent to Raimondo by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in Virginia
RITA President Chris Maxwell had asked the ATA to review correspondence and media statements related to toll enforcement by both Governor Raimondo and Colonel O’Donnell of the Rhode Island State Police.
“I can assure every member of the General Assembly that the opinions and statements issued by the governor related to toll enforcement have raised major concerns in both the trucking industry and the business community,” said Maxwell. “There are federal laws in place that provide truckers the right to access local roadways. The governor has raised an issue and not provided any details of how this enforcement plan would work. At this juncture, we are very concerned about any plan that may interrupt the flow of commerce or add greater burdens and cost to the trucking industry.”
“It is fair to ask how a Rhode Island trooper is expected to know when a truck is purposely diverting a toll and when they are getting off the highway to make a delivery – or quite frankly just going home. We intend to fight any legislative initiative that will create a police state for the trucking industry,” added Maxwell.
Filippi, GOP Members Call for Voter Approval
Independent House District 36 Representative Blake Filippi (Block Island, Charlestown, South Kingstown and Westerly) joined with the Republican Policy Group to introduce legislation calling on voters to amend the R.I. Constitution to require statewide and local voter approval for any new passenger vehicle tolls. Representatives Morgan, Price, Chippendale, Roberts and Reilly are cosponsors of H-7191.
“The Governor’s proposed Rhode Works toll gantries will stand as monuments to inefficiency and a failure to do right by the People – and we are adamantly opposed to this plan. However, if the State is going to establish a statewide network of toll gantries, R.I. families deserve protection from a future government in a cash crunch. Although our leaders have assured us that the proposed network of gantries will never be used to toll passenger vehicles, these gantries will remain standing long after they leave office, and future leaders are not bound by these promises,” said Filippi.
GOP Introduces No Toll Legislation
“The Governor has asked for a viable and sustainable alternative to her Toll proposal. We [are] introducing the Republican No Tolls Bridgeworks plan in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” stated Representative Patricia Morgan. “At the same time, we will hand deliver a copy of the legislation to her office. Hopefully, now that it is in official form, she will review its merits and work to help Rhode Island, not hurt the state with tolls.”
The GOP issued the following release:
"When the Governor abruptly introduced her massive borrowing and tolling scheme at the end of last year’s legislative session, the Republican Policy Group knew tolls would have detrimental consequences for Rhode Islanders. Our hard working families are fighting a stagnant economy and increase expenses. They simply should not be asked to bear the burden of higher consumer goods, because our State’s political leaders are unwilling to prioritize bridge repair over corporate welfare and waste,” she continued.
The Republican Policy Group searched the budget for spending that could be used for bridge repair that, at the same time, did not touch social programs or vital services. “Our budget is $8.7 million. Reallocating less than 1% of existing revenue for the next 10 years to bridge repair will raise $255 million more than the Governor’s plan,” explained Morgan. “That means in the same time frame, we will have more bridges repaired and more jobs created. The Republican plan surpasses the beneficial parts of the Governor’s plan, while, at the same time, avoiding the damage of tolls."
StopTollsRI.com Condemns "Deceptive Push Poll about Tolls Conducted by AAA"
Stop Tolls said that, "AAA Northeast released the results of a poll that appeared to show that a simple majority of their Rhode Island members supports Governor Gina Raimondo's truck toll proposal. However, the poll questions were not released with the results."
A release from NoTolls said the following:
AAA members themselves circulated the questions to the press, at which point, their bias was evident. It appears that this is a push poll designed simply to carry the Governor's side of the debate. As the R.I. Trucking Association has correctly pointed out, unfortunately, the state's largest business association, the Providence Chamber of Commerce, is an agent of the Governor and not necessarily working on behalf of the business community. The Providence Chamber appears to be orchestrating this via AAA (which is otherwise a very good and reliable business.)
"The results of the survey are misleading because it was crafted in a way to just get drivers to respond to the need to fix the roads, which is not in dispute. That's very different from asking respondents to weigh in on the financial and long term implications of tolls, not to mention important alternatives like pay-as-you-go", says StopTollsRI.com spokesperson Monique Chartier. "They are portraying these poll results as "Drivers approve of the RhodeWorks Truck Tolls Plan" - this is deceptive and misleading spin."
Could Toll Technology Be Used for Monitoring Drivers’ Data?
Opponents to truck tolls in Rhode Island are questioning the tracking capacities of the gantries, in light of other states using E-ZPass to issue speeding tickets and engage in data monitoring activities as discovered by the ACLU.
“While our primary concern is to stop the government from creating a new revenue stream from the taxpayer, of course we are concerned as average citizens that more of our basic rights might be stripped from us,” said Pam Gencarella with OSTPA.
RI Trucking Assoc: "Independent Analysis Points to Flaws in Economic Impact Study on RhodeWorks"
The Rhode Island Trucking Association (RITA) released an analysis of an economic impact study of RhodeWorks and concluded the study is flawed. The governor previously released the economic impact study (REMI Report) last October and used it as a foundation to build support for her toll plan.
The release was as follows:
The analysis of the REMI report was conducted by IHS, a leading analytics and information company, which operates in 32 countries around the world. The IHS team reviewed “The Economic Impact of RhodeWorks: An Accelerated Transportation Restoration Plan”, prepared by REMI. Their review identified several key issues in the report where assumptions and approaches to the study may lead to erroneous or suspect conclusions. Additionally, they found that the REMI study is sorely lacking in transparency. Key issues identified by IHS include:
*The IHS study projects revenue from tolls will only generate $24 million to $37.5 million per year, substantially below RhodeWorks’ $60 million per year projection.
* Highway truck volumes used in the REMI report appear questionable.
*The REMI report did not adequately account for truck routing diversion potential around the state.
* Not enough consideration was given to financing alternatives, which did not include bridge tolling.
StopTollsRI.com Calls Upon Governor to "Stop Stonewalling on APRA Request and Release Administration’s Own Truck Diversion Study"
StopTollsRI.com called upon Governor Raimondo to release a key study associated with her truck tolls plan concerning projections of truck diversion of highway toll gantries.
"The Governor has thus far stonewalled on releasing her own authorized truck diversion study, but in the wake of a survey recently released by the RI Trucking Association (conducted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association), StopTollsRI.com believes the release of the state sponsored survey is urgent.
Representative Patricia Morgan, a staunch critic of the truck tolls plan, submitted an APRA request to see the diversion study and it was originally denied, along with her request for toll gantry locations. After significant public pressure, the Raimondo administration last week provided the toll gantry locations, but this important study, which covered likely diversion routes truckers could use to avoid the tolls, remains inaccessible to the public. StopTollsRI.com believes the Governor’s motivation in refusing to release all of the data is due to findings that would indicate there would be a significant amount of diversion around the toll gantries."
RI DOT Releases Proposed Gantry Locations -- Days After Letter Was Sent to Leadership
Wrote the RI DOT:
With the recent release of the preliminary tolling locations, we look forward to the final resolution of the RhodeWorks financing plan and passage by the Legislature. This will clear the way for us to begin rebuilding our roads and bridges, aiding in the economic revival of this state.
RI Trucking Association Releases Driver Survey Conducted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA)
OOIDA surveyed its membership in Rhode Island and surrounding states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) using an on-line survey. 373 OOIDA members who regularly travel through and in Rhode Island responded to the survey.
"The purpose was to determine how truck drivers, in particular truck drivers that are likely to operate in Rhode Island, feel about Governor Raimondo’s proposal. The survey was available on the OOIDA website and was open to respondents for a period of roughly eleven days." The survey found:
76.7% of the respondents indicated they would alter their route to avoid paying tolls in Rhode Island.
60.6% of the respondents indicated they alter their route to avoid tolls in other states.
GOP Claims Victory Over Tolls with Special Election Win
The special election in Senate District 11 was "a special night for Rhode Island taxpayers," said the RI GOP:
John Pagliarini did not just defeat a well-known Democrat who has served for more than a decade on the town council of a community that constitutes about 66% of the district, he also defeated a candidate personally endorsed by Governor Gina Raimondo.
Chairman Brandon S. Bell declared: "By electing Pagliarini to the Senate, the voters sent a simple message by special delivery via a huge 18 wheeler truck to State House insiders: NO TOLLS!
The special election in Senate District 11 was a special night for Rhode Island taxpayers. John Pagliarini did not just defeat a well-known Democrat who has served for more than a decade on the town council of a community that constitutes about 66% of the district, he also defeated a candidate personally endorsed by Governor Gina Raimondo.
Chairman Brandon S. Bell declared: "By electing Pagliarini to the Senate, the voters sent a simple message by special delivery via a huge 18 wheeler truck to State House insiders: NO TOLLS
Toll Opponents Take to State House
Over one hundred opponents to truck tolls took to the State House on Tuesday for a press conference — and a rally — to express their concerns for Governor Raimondo’s funding mechanism to support a $500 million infrastructure bond.
Over a dozen groups including RI Taxpayers, Ocean State Taxpayers in Action (OSTPA), and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity turned out for a speaker series that included Republican Deputy Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, former Director of Administration Gary Sasse, RI Taxpayers' Larry Fitzmorris, and Sakonnet Toll Opposition Platform's (STOP) Tony Viveiros.
“In 2011, DOT said they couldn't fix our roads and bridges because interest payments on all the transportation bonds were consuming too much of their funding. The General Assembly attempted to fix that funding problem by creating a savings account dedicated for infrastructure spending,” said Morgan
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