Local Pols: Municipal Aid Plan Can Wait — Use the Money for Bridges
Two East Bay legislators proposed halting Gov. Chafee's plan to create a $10 million fund to help cities and towns with their pension costs — a move Chafee opposes.
Two East Bay legislators on Wednesday announced a way to make up part of an estimated $17 million shortfall in bridge upkeep costs that will occur once the Sakonnet and Jamestown Bridges are turned over to the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority.
Sen. Walter Felag (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) and Rep. John Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton) proposed halting Gov. Lincoln Chafee's plan to create a Municipal Incentive Aid program with $10 million in state funds in the fiscal 2014 budget year.
Even with the proposal, RIBTA would still fall $7 million short of its estimated maintenance costs; Sen. Louis DiPalma (D–Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) recently estimated that the four East Bay bridges cost a combined $38 million. The Newport Bridge brings in about $21 million per year in tolls.
Both legislators said their plan is a better option than imposing tolls on users of the Sakonnet River Bridge.
“If the governor and the General Assembly truly want economic development, they must rescind this toll so that businesses can prosper. A toll is a barrier stating ‘Stay away,’” Felag said in a statement.
“This toll could have a massive negative effect on not only the residents of Aquidneck Island but on the business community as well,” added Edwards. “With economic development our number one priority in the General Assembly, we cannot afford to allow a measure like this bridge toll to stifle our efforts, especially if there is $10 million available for a brand new program.”
Reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, the governor's Communications Director Christine Hunsinger said that Chafee created the Municipal Incentive Aid program to help communities with their pension costs, and would not support using that money to replace the planned tolls.
Chafee's plan "is designed to support cities and towns to keep their property taxes low while they meet their required contributions to their pensions," Hunsinger said during a phone interview.
"Rhode Island had the opportunity to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the bridges by taking that money form general revenue each year, and it didn't make the tough choice to do the maintenance — that resulted in the more difficult choice of replacing the [Sakonnet] Bridge," Hunsinger added. "That's why the revenue stream from the tolling, which would go to maintenance and upkeep, is so important."
What do you think?
Do you support the Felag-Edwards plan to reject the governor's municipal aid program?
Or do you think Gov. Chafee's plan to help cities and towns wrestle with their pension costs is the better way to go — even if it means new tolls?
Have your say below.