February 3, 2010

Start Installing Highway U-Turns, Now

Justin Katz

My blogging time has been constricted, this week, for two reasons: First, I've been working on a piece of writing of the sort that dangles a thread of hope that someday I may actually be able to make a living stringing words together. Second, I've been rushing to get back some of the excess tax money that the various tiers of government have been taking from my family rather than allowing me to pay all of my bills — of which I now have a large unpaid stack, with the late-fees piling up each month.

A few years ago, I figured out the necessity of redefining what I'd considered to be a normal, modestly frugal lifestyle. Per cultural norms, the prior calculation had been based on desires and expectations, not on any mathematical equations involving reality (which may be the defining error of municipal, state, and federal government, these days.) So, for small example, my lunch boxes at the time typically held a yogurt for morning break, a large sandwich, some sort of snack desert, a bottle of iced tea or something similar, and a 20oz coffee. I figured three dollars or so per day was a small expense for the comfort.

Of course, three dollars per workday is around $750 per year, so my current lunchbox now contains an apple for break, a modest sandwich, and a 20oz coffee. The savings aren't huge, but they might pay a bill each month. Introduce this:

Governor Carcieri Tuesday proposed a toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge just like the one on the Pell Bridge over Newport Harbor, $4 each way or 83 cents for Rhode Island residents with EZPass.

For those of you way on the other side of the bay, I'll explain that, for most of us, the Sakonnet River Bridge has more the aspect of a main road than a highway. My family, for one, crosses it an average of six times per weekday and four on the weekends. At the "local" rate, that would add up to almost $1,500 per year, easily three times my lunchbox savings.

This isn't a cry not to have my own mule gored; it's advice not to gore any such beasts. Usage fees are generally preferable to broad-based taxes, but from its current position, the last thing the state should be doing is adding to the cost of a productive life in Rhode Island. Moreover, those in the thrall of regionalization should think twice about policies that would have the cultural effect of drawing lines around our communities.

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I find myself in a similar situation.

When I purchased my home last year, I calculated that rent from both units would cover the cost of owning the home if I chose to step-up to a more appropriate home to start a family in. Basically, I was buying a house -now- when the prices were low in hopes of moving-up to a better one later.

What has happened is that local taxes have risen a significant amount, challenging my original assumptions. If I was to move-up now and rent out the unit I occupy in addition to the one I already offer, I would still be losing a significant chunk of money every year.

Basically, it doesn't make financial sense to own 'investment property' in my city anymore, since the 'investment' has been transformed into a consistent financial drag. Other landlords I know are in similar boats, unable to profit from investment, even when 'buying low'.

The end result is that landlords have to resort to neighborhood-destroying tactics to keep their heads above water. They have to either raise rents (which leads to empty units), skimp on upkeep, or evade the rental income taxes by dealing in cash, which often means renting to tenants involved in shady business.

Posted by: mangeek at February 3, 2010 11:09 AM

I'm sure, like everyone else looking to avoid the toll, I'll just take the Mt. Hope Bridge off the island instead.

Posted by: Will at February 3, 2010 11:56 AM

Sounds like a job for Snake Plissken

Posted by: john at February 3, 2010 12:32 PM

That loud sound you just heard was the crashing of property values in Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 3, 2010 12:40 PM

For our small state, we already have a very expensive toll bridge. You have tolls for all bridges under the assumption that all the money collected at these tolls goes to upkeep of the bridges. What a joke, it will go into the the bottomless pit of the general fund, and our infrastructure will continue to crumble.

Posted by: kathy at February 3, 2010 4:15 PM

>>"The toll hinges on a proposal to sell the $164-million bridge to the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which would turn over nearly 70 percent of its collections to the state until it has repaid the state’s cost for the span, which is expected to take 20 years."

In other words, isn't this a backdoor way of bypassing the Constitutional requirement for voter approval of all debt over (what is it?) $50,000.00 or so?

Let the Bridge Authority float the bonds, the citizens pay tolls, and the Authority sends the proceeds to the general fund for the General Assembly to pee away as usual?

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at February 3, 2010 5:29 PM

What would totally blow your budget- $4 or $5 gasoline. It would not be the 83 cent bridge crossing but the total driving to achieve lifeestyle choices you and your family have come to rely on that you will find backbreaking. That will be completely out of the hands of local, state, and probably federal gorvernments control.

Posted by: David S at February 3, 2010 7:24 PM

Let's not forget that the toll collectors (you'll need a few even with a "Fast Lane" system) will be additional state employees making state wages and benefits.

Posted by: EMT at February 5, 2010 10:16 AM
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