Truckers blast 'anti-business' toll plan in Rhode Island

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 5/27/2015

OOIDA and the Rhode Island Trucking Association have come out swinging against a controversial plan that would toll trucks $100 million a year to pay for bridge repairs, bus and rail service, bike lanes and sidewalks. Truckers say the plan, called RhodeWorks, amounts to double taxation. And it ignores the fact that Rhode Island already diverts a considerable amount of road and bridge funds for other uses.

Gov. Gina Riamondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Teresa Paiva held a press conference Wednesday, May 27, to unveil their plan. It calls for commercial vehicles to pay a “user fee” – in the form of an electronically administered toll – to drive on major roadways including federal highways. They call it a “user fee” because current federal law prohibits tolls on any roads or bridges funded by federal fuel taxes and other taxes going into the Highway Trust Fund.

All three lawmakers spoke of the urgency to finance $1.1 billion in bonds over 10 years, backed by truck tolls, to address issues of structural deficiency and the need to repair 650 bridges. Rhode Island’s bridges rank last among the 50 states in terms of condition.

The vice president of the Rhode Island Sierra Club is quoted in the governor’s press release, saying “It’s only fair to ask the big trucks that are tearing up our roads to pay their share in fixing them …”

The plan requires approval from the state Legislature before it can advance. If it does pass, it would be implemented in 2017.

In a written response to the governor, OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek says trucks already pay a significant amount to travel in Rhode Island via the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, IFTA, Unified Carrier Registration, the 12 percent federal excise tax on the purchase of new tractors and trailers, International Registration Plan, and a federal excise tax on the purchase of new tires. That does not include what truckers spend on goods and services while they stop or reside in the state.

“Hauling freight in the Northeast corridor is already extremely challenging for small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers,” Matousek stated in the letter. “They already have to contend with our nation’s heaviest concentration of toll roads, severe congestion, a lack of adequate truck parking, and a more aggressive regulatory and enforcement environment. In short, it is more expensive and time-consuming to haul freight in that region.

“If tolls are the solution to our infrastructure problems, in theory the Northeast corridor would have the best system of roads and bridges in the country.”

The Rhode Island Trucking Association is also mobilizing to combat the proposal. RITA President Chris Maxwell says lawmakers have failed to address the real problem – that of diverting road and bridge funds to other uses.

“Let’s talk first about the root of the problem. Rhode Island siphons off a disproportionate amount of the funds that are going in from fees and gas taxes and registration fees,” Maxwell told Land Line Magazine. “There’s fiscal malfeasance and mismanagement, to begin with, of the funds that are there. The general public is hearing, hey, bad trucks are damaging the roads. They’re not hearing that we’re in this pickle because there’s been a runaway train with the funding that’s there being diverted elsewhere to everything but roads – 40 or so percent of the moneys that are being retained.”

Maxwell says charging a truck-only toll is anti-business.

“It’s damaging to our economy, it’s damaging to the nation’s economy, it’s anti-business, and it’s wrong,” he said. … “Trucks pay taxes for every linear foot that they travel in the state and they pay a portion of their apportioned registration to the state. But look, that money there is just being siphoned off and misallocated. You’ve got to fix your financial house before you start reaching out to double-tax trucking, period.”

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