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State Report: $61M in Earmarks for Roads + Taxes on Guns and Ammo

Saturday, February 08, 2014


This week’s State Report centers on a proposal by Rep. Anthony Giarrusso to earmark the $61 million in current DMV revenues for road and bridge maintenance in the state. Additionally, we’ll also examine newly introduced legislation that looks to combat gun violence by instituting a tax on guns and ammunition. Also on the agenda will be several bills that address a variety of topics – including funding for seniors, corporate income taxes, and vehicle excise taxes.

$61 Million Earmark Proposal for Road and Bridge Maintenance

Rep. Anthony Giarrusso (R-East Greenwich, West Greenwich) has filed legislation to earmark the $61 million in current DMV revenues for road and bridge maintenance in the state.

Giarrusso, the sole West Bay representative on the Special Legislative Commission To Study Funding of East Bay Bridge, said the bill was another of House Republican’s “Getting To 25” initiative, designed to get Rhode Island back into the mainstream on key measures of state performance.

Reason for the proposal

“Rhode Island is notorious for its poor roads and bridges, and routinely ranks 49th or 50th among U.S. states for its highway infrastructure," said Giarusso.

“The Department of Transportation (DOT) has set forth an ambitious program to get our roads and bridges back where they need to be, but this means a significant financial commitment. As one example, three major projects, including bridge rehabilitation, a statewide road resurfacing programs and the reconstruction of Route 6 and 10, are estimated to cost more than $900 million over the next five years.

“My concern is that if we invest these state and federal dollars, and then fail to maintain what we have built, we will end up in exactly the same place down the road. We were forced to replace the Sakonnet River Bridge at a cost of $167 million because we failed to maintain it. We have to stop operating this way.

“That being said, we are running out of new sources of revenue to fund infrastructure maintenance. This is an effort to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in.

“A fundamental rule is, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. And that’s the goal here,” Giarrusso said.

Highway and bridge maintenance funding

State funding for maintenance of Rhode Island’s highways and bridges has been primarily funded by the state’s 33 cents-per gallon gasoline tax, the nation’s 13th highest. As a result of better fuel economy, however, gasoline tax revenues have been steadily shrinking.

Federal funds, from the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, account for nearly 80% of the DOT operating budget. The Trust Fund, however, is nearly exhausted, and Congress has been unwilling to fund the program beyond its inflation-adjusted 2012 levels.

“This proposal is not going to solve the entire problem, but it will help by earmarking $61 million from existing revenues at the Department of Motor Vehicles specifically for road and bridge maintenance.

“This is not just a matter of more money for highway infrastructure, but a way to save money as well. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that driving on roads in need of repair is costing Rhode Island motorists $350 million annually in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs, or about $467 per motorist per year.

“With 70% of our bridges deficient or obsolete, and roadways across the state falling apart, we can’t wait for someone to wave a magic wand and make this problem disappear.

“I realize this creates a budget hole the General Assembly will have to fill, but given the state of our roads and highways, and the importance they have to our economic health, we have little choice.
We dug ourselves into this hole, and now we need to dig ourselves out,” Giarrusso said.

How Rhode Island's roads rank

In July 2013, the Reason Foundation's 2013 Annual Highway Report concluded that Rhode Island's roads were the second worst in the country—bested only by Alaska. The state's main problem areas included deficient bridges, urban interstate conditions, and poor rural arterials condition. The study also found that Rhode Island spends $375,970 per mile, which is 2.4 times more than the national average. To view the complete report, click here.

For more news from the past week, check out the slideshow below.


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