Don’t look for a big picture debate on Smith Hill this time of year. Instead, elected officials indulge in hours of oration on small ticket items as their new-found commitment moral obligations, debt market economics or – as was the case last night – adding a 10 cent toll to a bridge most Rhode Islanders have never crossed.
Or, the legislature voted to decrease the toll by almost $10 a trip according to some estimates of the initial plan. Whether it’s parsed as a political victory or defeat, it’s somewhat astonishing that a toll bridge has consumed so much of the state’s legislative attention. But here we are on the second day of the new fiscal year without a budget and a 10 cent user fee is causing political consternation.
It’s a perfect metaphor for RI’s penny wise but pound foolish problems: our state is uniquely connected by bridges and we have among the very worst in the nation. Meanwhile, conservative pundits are outraged that a hugely small slice of the state’s population is being asked to pay a user fee.
That’s why it’s absolutely delicious political irony that our leading libertarian pundit Justin Katz, who lives in Tiverton, would prefer taxpayers fund the infrastructure rather than users. While it smacks of socialism for me and austerity for thee, it’s probably more strategic than that: his job is to suggest ways to shrink the public sector, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as being a libertarian.
The libertarian solution would be to buy a boat; they are sales-tax free here in the Ocean State!