Rhode Island legislators propose $60 million bridge restoration efforts from current funding

I-195 in Rhode IslandI-195 in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island House Republican Caucus proposed a fiscal year 2016 budget amendment, H5900 Substitute A, to dedicate $60 million in the current budget for bridge restoration as an alternative to tolls on bridges in the state.

“We recognize that our bridges need immediate first aid,” Minority Leader Brian Newberry said in a statement. “As a result, we have crafted a funding stream that begins the restoration of the most structurally deficient without delay and in a fiscally prudent manner.”

A plan from Gov. Gina Raimondo requires borrowing of $900 million, the Caucus said, is proposing the plan to avoid an estimated $35 million to $45 million in annual interest.

“Additionally, the fees for bond counsel and underwriters will consume more money that can be used to put people to work, buy construction materials, and fix our bridges,” Representative Patricia Morgan said. “In total, we will spend more on interest to banks, lawyers and Wall Street than we will on actual bridge construction.”

Raimondo’s plan, proposed in late May, would increase spending on roads, bridges, and mass transit projects by $1.1 billion over the next 9 years. It would also create 12,000 jobs and impose a tax on trucking to help fund the plan. That tax is estimated to bring in $100 million.

“We are concerned about the impact taking $100 million a year from our trucking industry will have on consumer prices and on our economy as a whole, ” Representative Robert Lancia said. “No one can claim that it won’t cause significant damage.”

“Our proposal allows us to begin the work immediately and get our construction trades back to work in a fiscally responsible way. Of course, the legislature will need to commit to continued funding at this or higher levels for the next 10-12 years, but the deficient state of our infrastructure demands that sustained commitment. We hope our House colleagues will concur and vote to include this Article amendment in this budget. There is little time to lose.” Morgan added.

In a report by the Providence Journal, Raimondo’s Press Secretary Marie Aberger said the Republican plan was little more than the “scraping together” of “one-time” funds.

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“This amendment is like treating a broken bone with a couple of aspirins: we might feel slightly better for a few minutes, but it won’t address the long-term problem,” Aberger said.

“Rhode Island currently ranks last in the nation in overall bridge condition,” she added. “Twenty-two percent of bridges are structurally deficient, and that number is projected to steadily increase over the next decade. In order to repair our bridges, make the state a more attractive place to do business, and put thousands of people to work, we need a steady and predictable source of funding.”

Funding sources in the amendment include:

  • From a two percent (2%) reduction in state personnel and benefits on savings from 17employee turnover, retirement, and management efficiencies—up to $15,000,000
  • Moneys transferred from the Clean Water Finance Agency, also known as the Infrastructure Bank—$11,000,000
  • From the tobacco settlement fund, by taking from the monies that were budgeted in Article 1 to go to the information trust fund—$19,000,000
  • From the Narragansett Bay Commission—$2,800,000
  • From the Rhode Island Health and Education Building Corporation—$5,000,000
  • From the Additional Newport Grand Marketing NTI provided for in Article 11—$760,000
  • From savings incurred by a one-year delay in the implementation of the DMV Reflective License Plate Program provided for in Article 4—$3,000,000
  • From Hospital Uncompensated Care/Disproportional Share Payments provided for in Article 5, but only by reducing from the general revenue appropriation—$1,500,000
  • From Graduate Medical Education Expenditures provided for in Article 5—$2,000,000
  • From the Rhode Island Airport Corporation—$300,000