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Friday, March 4, 2016

Asking trucking companies to pay their fair share for infrastructure maintenance

By Aaron Regunberg in Rhode Island’s Future

On February 10th, after 7 hours of debate on the House Floor, I voted for legislation to invest in our state’s crumbling infrastructure and establish a sustainable source of revenue to maintain and repair our roads and bridges. As a proud progressive, I am happy to stand by that vote.

We’ve seen some loud opposition to the truck tolling plan, and I understand where some of this hostility is coming from.

For example, I get why the rightwing Center for Freedom and Prosperity would seize on this issue – they, like their benefactors, the Koch brothers, are philosophically opposed to the whole premise of taxing private property for the public good, so asking truck companies to pay their fair share for infrastructure maintenance is naturally going to rub them the wrong way.

Similarly, it makes sense that my friends and colleagues in the Republican Caucus – who have strenuously fought against every policy I’ve put forward to improve wages for low-income workers, to strengthen the social safety net for struggling families, and to create a more progressive tax structure – would argue against a proposal like this, and instead push for more regressive alternatives like privatizing our roads and bridges.

But I have a lot more trouble wrapping my head around the handful of progressive voices who have come out against this public investment and jobs initiative.

To me, the situation seems pretty straightforward: our infrastructure is in disrepair, and the responsibility for that disrepair is not evenly distributed throughout our state.

Big trucks do a lot of damage to our roads and bridges. In fact, a government study found that one 40-ton truck causes as much damage as 9,600 cars.

Yet the folks who own these trucks are not paying for the consequences of their damage – all of us are.

It’s a negative externality on a public good, not so different from a factory polluting a river or a smoker’s second-hand smoke.

And in the same way that I support environmental regulations and smoke-free workplaces, I believe it’s completely reasonable to require the businesses who are deteriorating this shared public good to the greatest extent to pay their fair share for our infrastructure’s upkeep and maintenance.

So I stand by my vote to invest in our state’s economic development, to invest in the livelihood of our workers, and to invest in the future safety of our young people.

And while I would never claim to be the final arbiter of what is and is not progressive (that age-old question we love to argue about on the left), I will say that in my personal opinion, RhodeWorks passes that test easily, and those of us who care passionately about economic, social, and racial justice have better targets for our energy and outrage than the placement of a $20 toll on a million dollar truck.

Aaron Regunberg is a community organizer in Providence and a state representative in House District 4.