PROVIDENCE, RI A new state-commissioned study says that Governor Raimondos toll-financed highway repair proposal would boost state economic activity by more than a half-billion dollars and create 6,487 new jobs over the next decade.
Regional Economic Models Inc. of Massachusetts, hired to address economic concerns about tolling tractor trailers, concluded that as a result of Raimondos RhodeWorks construction plan, Rhode Islanders would also earn an additional $521 million in cumulative personal income by 2025.
Compared to those economic benefits, the cost to Rhode Island business and residents would be a relatively modest $160 million over 10 years, because the majority of the revenue would come from outside the state, either from the federal government or out-of state trucks that pass through without stopping, the study said.
At an afternoon briefing, Jonathan Womer, director of the Rhode Island Office of Management and Budget, acknowledged that, given the methodology of the study, it was almost certain to show an economic benefit from RhodeWorks, and the greater the amount of spending from those outside sources, the bigger the local boost.
In addition to tolls alone, the REMI study examined six alternative scenarios that included not getting $400 million in federal funding for mass transit on routes 6 and 10 if the road-improvement project isnt done and supplementing toll revenue with $12.5 million from increasing the gas tax.
As it turned out, the study estimated that raising the gas tax would create even more jobs 6,656 jobs over 10 years than tolling alone, and $22 million more in gross domestic product.
Explaining why Raimondo didnt pursue a gas-tax increase to pay for RhodeWorks despite the larger projected job gains, Womer said that estimated personal-income growth in the gas-tax-hike scenario was $81 million lower over 10 years than pure tolling.
Raising taxes on diesel fuel would produce fewer jobs than raising taxes on gasoline, but be better for personal-income growth, according to the study.
Raimondo ordered the REMI study, which took one month to make and cost $50,000, after House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello declined to bring the RhodeWorks proposal for a vote. He said he was concerned the economic consequences of the toll plan had not been fully analyzed.
On Thursday Mattiello, who was briefed on the REMI report Wednesday, said he would show the study to other economists and then negotiate a new version of a bridge-repair financing plan with the governor and Senate president that addresses his concerns. Hearings and a vote on a still-undefined plan would most likely not happen until January or February, he said.
My concerns have not changed, Mattiello said in a phone interview. The impact that tolling will have on the trucking industry, but more importantly, the economy, manufacturing and different sectors that rely on Class A trucks.
This report suggests the impact may be minimal and I have to study whether I accept those conclusions and if I accept that I will be more comfortable, he added.