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Monday, January 25, 2016

Filippi seeks to trivialize state Constitution

Read between the lines
By Will Collette

Some but not all local residents received an e-mailed news release from our wild and crazy state Representative Blake “Flip” Filippi. Filippi is touting his latest media stunt, a futile attempt to amend the state Constitution to ban tolls on passenger cars.

Mind you, tolls on passenger cars are wildly unpopular, so much so that even Gov. Gina Raimondo has declared that passenger cars will NEVER be tolled on state highways.

However, she does want to toll interstate trucks passing into and through Rhode Island to raise the money needed to fix our roads and bridges. A recent AAA poll shows 55% of Rhode Island AAA members favor this approach.

Raimondo says that these trucks are one of the major reasons why our bridges and highways are in such terrible shape. Thus, it is only fair that they should pay to fix them. If you have ever driven on I-95, I think you will agree that this makes sense, no how much just the idea of tolls gives you agita.

But Flip Filippi and his wingnut cohorts in the General Assembly believe that there is a magic unicorn that is due to magically appear with enough money to fix our roads and bridges. 

They call this unicorn “Pay as you Go,” and they are using the right-wing mantra of “waste, fraud and abuse” to carry on the myth that we can squeeze more millions of dollars out of our already stressed state budget.

Not only can we squeeze the state budget for the billions of dollars to carry out desperately needed road repair work without new taxes, tolls or user fees, but we can even find an extra $4 million to give to the Quonset Air Museum under a legislative grant bill co-sponsored by Tea Party Republican Rep. Doreen Costa and Rep. Bob Craven[1] (who is one of Charlestown’s Solicitors).

But meanwhile, we have this new brain-fart from Flip to amend the state Constitution, the venerable document that most legislators respect enough not to trivialize by creating a new Constitutional right to never have your car subject to a toll. 

OK, Flip, if you want to create new Constitutional rights for Rhode Island drivers, how about a Constitutional right to safe roads and bridges? Or a Constitutional right to travel the state in relative safety?

Filippi’s grand gesture is really just another example of the Flipper’s one demonstrable talent: the ability to grab media attention. The fact that this legislation will never happen is irrelevant to his need to be in the media. The fact that using the state Constitution for such purposes is an insult to the Constitutional process is irrelevant to Flip’s needs. He already got what he wants: a five-column, above the fold headline in the Westerly Sun.

Here is Filippi’s original news release. I have taken the liberty – my Constitutional right, I might add – to insert comments in red and footnotes to redress the many liberties Flip has taken with truth and common sense. 

Representative Filippi Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Protect Passenger Vehicles from Tolls

Filippi doesn't believe the government can be trusted
which is why he spent so much of his own money
to become part of government.
STATE HOUSE -- Independent House District 36 Representative Blake “Flip” Filippi (Block Island, Charlestown, South Kingstown and Westerly, even though he doesn’t live in any of those towns. He lives in an apartment in Providence and often lists his mother’s estate in Lincoln as his address) has joined with the Republican Policy Group to introduce legislation, H-7191, calling on voters to amend the R.I. Constitution to require statewide and local voter approval for any new passenger vehicle tolls. Representatives Morgan, Price, Chippendale, Roberts and Reilly are cosponsors of H-7191[2].

“The Governor’s proposed Rhode Works toll gantries will stand as monuments to inefficiency and a failure to do right by the People
[I think Flip needs to explain why toll gantries are “monuments to inefficiency and a failure to do right by the People.” Toll gantries collect tolls and, as experience of decades has shown, do so pretty well. Are they like wind turbines or other kinds of structures some of his die-hard supporters fear?] – and we are adamantly opposed to this plan. 

However, if the State is going to establish a statewide network of toll gantries, R.I. families deserve protection from a future government in a cash crunch. [RI families deserve safe roads and bridges, first and foremost.] Although our leaders have assured us that the proposed network of gantries will never be used to toll passenger vehicles, these gantries will remain standing long after they leave office, and future leaders are not bound by these promises,” said Filippi.[3]

The ease of tolling our passenger vehicles with the Raimondo toll gantries may be too enticing for future leaders
[4] [Flip and his wing-nut buddies are not endowed with the ability to predict the future. For all we know, passenger cars might not even exist 100 years from now]– especially if projected commercial vehicle toll revenues fall short. 

Our Constitutional Amendment is the only way to bind future leaders to the promises of today [If the idea that the promises of today be made binding in perpetuity is so important, then why isn’t ALL legislation done in the form of Constitutional amendments? The answer is simple: times change, needs change and, through the legislative process, our laws need to change]. Once passed, new passenger vehicle tolls can only be assessed if the People allow it through a statewide and local referendum,” declared Rep. Filippi.

Rep. Filippi, an Independent
[who has registered as a Republican, voted Republican, made major campaign contributions to Republicans, uses a Republican PR firm, and caucuses with House Republicans], has partnered with the Republican Policy Group to develop and introduce the pay-as-you-go Bridge Works plan [powered by magic uniforms who can poop money], as well as this Constitutional Amendment.


[1] Craven represents the North Kingstown district where he lives. In that district, legislators are expected to support anything that puts more money into Quonset. 

Now, I like the Quonset Air Museum and understand their problem. Their current quarters are in a building that has been condemned as unsafe. They need either massive repairs or new space – I happen to think Ninigret Park would be a great location – but this is not an appropriate project for state funding.

[2] Also known as the “Wingnut Caucus.” This is the small group of Republican legislators who frequently take positions detached from reality but very much in line with today’s hard-right GOP policies. 

Filippi claims to be an “independent” but has registered as a Republican and is a long-time major donor to the Republican Party. He has been donated to Rep. Patricia Morgan for many election cycles – usually using his Mom’s Lincoln estate as his address.

[3] Filippi also claims to be a Libertarian but this proposed scheme is anything but Libertarian.

Libertarians generally oppose government services such as highways, insisting that they should be built, owned and operated by private businesses and supported by user fees. If run by a government entity, then, most Libertarians argue they should be funded with user fees. But hey, Flip is Flip for a reason. He will do or say anything to pander for votes.

[4] Writing things into the Constitution relating to technologies that we can pretty much guarantee will change over time is a risky business. 

Take, for example, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Originally written when “firearms” were largely flintlocks and the US had no standing army to fend off invasion, the idea was to make sure we had a “well-regulated militia” to defend the new-born nation.

They had no idea how much mayhem would result from what seemed logical in the 1700s. Regardless of where you stand on guns, I think most reasonable people will agree that this Amendment, written over 200 years ago, has caused a tremendous amount of division and turmoil. And death.