- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - An economic analysis commissioned by the state is further evidence that the proposal to toll large commercial trucks to fund Rhode Island bridge repairs is a good way to go, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday.

Raimondo proposed the tolls rather than higher taxes to finance a $500 million revenue bond to fix bridges.

Regional Economic Models Inc., an economic forecasting firm in Massachusetts, evaluated the plan against scenarios with reduced tolls and higher gasoline or diesel taxes.

According to its study, released Thursday, the toll plan would create nearly 6,500 jobs, add $538 million to the state’s economy and increase personal income by $521 million over 10 years as the bridges are fixed, assuming $400 million in federal funding. Without the federal funding, those numbers are cut by more than half.

The possibility of a plan with an increased gas tax added more to the economy and created about 6,650 jobs, though personal income gains were lower. The study didn’t consider whether Rhode Island would collect the increased gas or diesel tax revenue if drivers chose to buy fuel in Massachusetts instead.

“Today, there’s yet another study that will show that the road and bridge plan, which I have before the legislature, is good for Rhode Island’s economy,” the governor said. “This is the deepest study we’ve done to date, and it will show that this plan creates thousands of jobs for the people of Rhode Island, has ample money to fix our roads and bridges, and puts hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of Rhode Island families.”

Each scenario sought to generate $60 million in revenue annually, of which about $40 million would be used for debt service and the rest for bridge repairs, state officials said. The study, commissioned by the state Department of Revenue, cost $50,000.

Raimondo, a Democrat, said she doesn’t want to burden Rhode Island residents with higher taxes. She has repeatedly said that large trucks cause the most damage to bridges and should be responsible for repairs. She said she has no plans to toll passenger vehicles.

The Senate has endorsed Raimondo’s plan. The House has not.

Republican members of the House offered their own plan on Wednesday for paying for bridge repairs through a variety of funding sources other than tolling. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called the GOP plan flawed.

Mattiello said Thursday that with any plan, he’s concerned about the economic impact on the business community. He said he’s reviewing the new data.

“We now have more information on the sectors which are impacted, both positively and negatively,” he said in a statement.

The Rhode Island Trucking Association also said it’s reviewing the study. A spokesman said the association appreciates that the governor requested it.

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