PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Trucking Association will inject cash into the political cycle to combat the re-election bids of several lawmakers who voted for tolls, which will pull money from the wallets of truck drivers, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.
Chris Maxwell, RITA’s president, said four to six politicians will be targeted, but he did not offer specifics.
“We will have an impact on the election,” Maxwell said. “I can’t offer the details yet, but we will have an impact.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the toll-funded bridge-repair plan into law in February, after the measure passed the Rhode Island House by a 52-21 vote, and the Senate by a 25-12 tally.
Maxwell would not say whose campaigns would be involved or how much money would be spent, or and did not have a timeframe for when money would be funneled into supporting or opposing the unnamed lawmakers’ campaigns.
Rhode Island campaign finance laws do not allow organizations like RITA to contribute directly to a candidate. But the organization could spend money on a campaign in what is known as an “independent expenditure.” One way to do that would be to form a political action committee.
Among the truck toll supporters on the ballot next month is House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Maxwell would not say whether or not the Cranston Democrat is one of the politicians he is referencing.
In a related matter that will involve spending millions of dollars collected from truck drivers’ tolls, Maxwell called the fast-tracking of repairing several 6-10 connector bridges and ramps, “political.”
Both Governor Raimondo and R.I. Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti have said more than once that the decision to move the projects along the well-traveled artery to the top of their list was motivated by safety, not politics. Mattiello supported the plan after it was announced.
Maxwell pointed to a Target 12 report that looked into why the September news conference announcing the change in plans came months after inspection reports gave several structures on the roadway failing grades.
There was a nine-month span between the inspection of the Huntington Avenue Viaduct and the announcement.
“How do you say with a straight face you’re worried about safety and then pull a nine-month-old inspection out of your back pocket?” Maxwell said. “They’re manipulating the inspection process for political gain.”
Alviti said that while the grade for the Huntington Avenue structure came out in December, the inspection process continued, with new safety issues discovered in June, about three months before the news conference.