Metro

State reps, governor disagree on DOT

Raimondo, Republicans introduce opposing plans for fixing nation’s worst infrastructure

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rhode Island is ranked last out of all 50 states in bridge conditions. According to Gov. Raimondo’s Rhode Works proposal, 22 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient.

After getting taken out of the budget in the last legislative session, Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal, which would use truck tolls to pay for investments in infrastructure, has once again come to the forefront of Statehouse political debates.

Raimondo’s plan addresses the fact that Rhode Island is ranked last out of all 50 states in overall bridge condition, according to a Governor’s Office press release. Approximately 22 percent of bridges in the state are structurally deficient, according to the RhodeWorks proposal.

By tolling commercial trucks on several bridges along major roads such as I-95 and I-195, the plan intends to prevent future deficits by making fixes now and creating 6,487 jobs over 10 years.

The plan, which was in Raimondo’s proposed budget, passed through the Senate but not the House and faced significant objections from Republican representatives. In response, Raimondo put forth a new plan Sept. 30 to overhaul the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

By aiming to increase funding, improve accountability and reprioritize projects, Raimondo and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti hope to “build a world-class transportation system,” according to a press release.

One version of this plan includes additional funding from RhodeWorks — which Raimondo continues to tweak in hopes of getting it passed in a future legislative session. Raimondo also developed an alternate version of this plan that does not include the added revenue that would come from RhodeWorks, in case the legislation does not pass through the General Assembly.

House Republicans agree that the state’s infrastructure problems should be addressed, but they would favor a proposal without additional taxes and tolls. The Republican plan, revealed Oct. 7, reallocates over $875 million from the state budget over the next 10 years to address deteriorating infrastructure. Some sources for this funding include redistributed money that usually goes toward the general fund.

The plan also aims to trim General Assembly functions from the budget, including $300,000 annually from the Medical Advisory Board’s budget and government programs such as the Museum of Labor.

House Minority Leader Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield and Burrillville, supports the plan and is critical of RhodeWorks. One of Newberry’s primary concerns is the negative impact RhodeWorks’s tolls could have on Rhode Island’s trucking economy.

“We have an eight-point-something billion dollar budget,” Newberry said. “We can find money in the state budget.”

Rhode Island is already one of the highest-taxed states in the country, and the population cannot afford any additional taxes or tolls, Newberry said.

Regarding the exact sources of funding in the Republican proposal, Newberry said he finds room for discussion. “We have more than enough money to spend,” he said. “We can always nit-pick about where to cut.”

Speaker of the House Rep. Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, who was opposed to passing RhodeWorks when it was first presented, is against the new Republican plan.

“This is Rep. (Patricia) Morgan’s (R-Warwick) recycled proposal supported by a minority of the minority caucuses. She didn’t have enough support last session to offer a budget amendment and now she is trying to keep her flawed plan alive,” Mattiello wrote in a statement to The Herald.

Unlike Newberry, Mattiello does not believe there is room in the budget for the sort of reallocation the Republicans are proposing, citing the existing $150 million structural deficit heading into the next fiscal year.

“While we all agree that our roads and bridges need our attention, I have not accepted any plan at this time,” he wrote. “I prefer an approach that produces a genuine, sustainable revenue source that helps us grow economically.”

The Governor’s Office had not responded to a request for comment by press time.