ARLENE VIOLET - Are you dumb enough to pay for upcoming state tolls fiasco?

ARLENE VIOLET - Are you dumb enough to pay for upcoming state tolls fiasco?

State leaders think that you are double dumb. The state is on the brink of floating $1.1 billion, with interest, for the Rhodes Work project. Your intelligence, firstly, cannot be trusted to vote on the bond project despite the Rhode Island Constitution, Article V1 “Of Legislative Power,” Section 16, which says that “the general assembly shall have no powers without the express consent of the people, to incur state debts to an amount exceeding fifty thousand dollars, except in the time of war, or in the case of insurrection or invasion; nor shall it in any case, without such consent, pledge the faith of the state for the payment of the obligations of others.”

As the astute Justin Katz raises in Anchor Rising, these quasi-public agencies are at a minimum “others” in that definition, if not, de facto, state agencies. As you saw in the 38 Studios fiasco, the “other” was the Economic Development Corporation, and the state (i.e. you the taxpayer) is paying off those bonds. You never voted on this debt but you are supposedly too stupid to realize that it is about to happen all over again with the toll project.

The new sleight of hand is to use that “quasi’ public authority,” the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, to run the show. This fig leaf could potentially cost taxpayers 10 times as much as 38 Studios if it goes bust. Yet Gov. Gina Raimondo told WPRI’s Newsmakers program that taxpayers would never be on the hook for this bond if the toll revenue fell short, since they would increase the toll. The state has no documentation as to how high the toll might be that would result in massive truck traffic skirting the state rather than pay it. Even with the toll structure being considered, the estimate is that 25 percent will dodge the tolls. Data also doesn’t exist as to the pressure point that truckers based in Rhode Island will move their operations over the border, as Mr. Katz aptly notes.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court years ago ruled that the quasi-public agencies can do this debt since they are not “state agencies,” but it is time to revisit that ruling. Rhode Islanders have been abused over and over again by these quasi’s like the PBA (Public Building Authority) and RIHMFC (Rhode Island Housing Mortgage and Finance Corporation) etc., which became the favor factory for the politically connected people.

The public should be outraged that these so-called quasi-agencies continue to be the conduit by which the office-holders strip the right to vote in accordance with the spirit (and perhaps the letter) of the Rhode Island Constitution. Meanwhile, perfectly plausible proposals floated by the Republicans and the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity are poo-pooed by the pooh bars on Smith Hill.

So, let me ask you if you think Rhode Islanders are the dumb donkeys the administration and Speaker think they are? You actually will get your answer by seeing what the public response will be to the legislative proposal to feint left by giving the project to the Bridge and Turnpike Authority as opposed to adoption of some worthwhile proposals by others or allowing a public vote. Just as the quasi-public agencies of yesteryear were payoffs to the political elite, the bridge proposal is also a sop. It’s business as usual if you acquiesce.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.

Comments

My question is : Does the proposal have a financial impact on CVS. North Smithfield has a large distribution center and Woonsocket is home of its corporation. Could this be the last nail in the State's coffin ? Only time will tell !

Pepsi has a warehouse on Pontiac Ave in Cranston that hires 200 people. The Pepsi rep who testified at House Finance hearing on toll legislation in June reported that Pepsi may be forced to close that warehouse if the toll as described in June goes into effect. Along with the warehouse goes the 200 jobs OUT of RI.