Editorials

Dan Davidson ‘11.5: Ballot questions shouldn’t be overlooked

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, November 1, 2010

On Tuesday, Rhode Islanders will go to the polls and make some important decisions regarding the state’s future. A new governor will be elected, along with General Assembly members and other statewide officials. But further down the ballot there will be a set of questions also under consideration.

I’m referring to Rhode Island’s four ballot questions, three of which ask voters to endorse or reject bonds and one that proposes changing the state’s official name. Naturally these issues haven’t gotten as much attention as the races for office, and only the proposal to scrap “Providence Plantations” from the state’s name has received much media coverage.

 In a political environment where the concept of government debt has become toxic, I’m concerned many voters may reflexively reject these bonds. An examination of the issues, however, demonstrates that approving the bonds will help move our state forward.

Question 3 asks voters to approve or reject an $84.7 million transportation bond, and offers the most straightforward choice. $4.7 million would go toward the purchase and rehabilitation of RIPTA buses, while the rest would be used to maintain and improve roads and bridges.

Michael Lewis, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, makes a convincing case for approving the bond. In an op-ed that appeared in several Rhode Island newspapers, Lewis explains that putting up $80 million will result in a federal investment of over $400 million in Rhode Island’s infrastructure. If the bond is rejected, Lewis says, “projects would come to a virtual halt as there would not be enough dollars to pay the cost of construction. There is no other immediate source of funding for our transportation initiatives.”

TRIP, a transportation think-tank, says the state needs $4.5 billion over ten years to keep roads and bridges in good shape. While it’s important to note that TRIP is sponsored by stakeholders that would benefit from construction, like labor unions, the group’s finding is in line with what a governor’s commission suggested two years ago. Investment in our roads and bridges is necessary and will stimulate the economy — the Federal Highway Administration estimates that approving the bond will produce over 5,000 jobs.

Question 2 puts a $78 million higher education bond up for vote. $17 million would go toward revamping Rhode Island College’s arts center, and the remaining $61 million would be used to build a new chemistry complex at the University of Rhode Island. Some might jump to conclude that this spending is wasteful, but these two projects are good investments for the state.

 Pastore Hall, the URI chemistry building that would be replaced, dates back to the 1950s, when about 800 students used it each year. Today more than 6,000 students frequent the building. The state’s flagship university needs bigger and better facilities, especially since chemistry is an integral part of many of URI’s strongest disciplines, like marine biology.

Furthermore, as the South County Independent noted in an editorial, “The three-year project is expected to create or save 950 jobs, from architectural and engineering positions to construction work.” As for the new arts center at RIC, the Providence Journal editorial board pointed out that “the current building is 52 years old, a terrible eyesore and violates some fire-code rules — a particularly troubling problem for the sort of cultural functions that draw many members of the general public.”

The “Save Our Shore” signs you may have seen around the East Side are expressing support for ballot Question 4. Approving this bond would let the state borrow $14.7 million for three purposes: purchasing land at Rocky Point in Warwick and at the site of a former night club adjacent to India Point Park here in Providence, and renovating Fort Adams in Newport. The city of Warwick already owns much of Rocky Point, where an amusement park used to sit. If the bond is approved, the state will purchase the remaining area from the federal Small Business Administration, which took over the land when the park went bankrupt.

Many older Rhode Islanders fondly remember this destination, and opening it up would give the public valuable waterfront access. Expanding India Point Park would do the same for Providence. The park is a beautiful open space, and as State Representative David Segal wrote on the blog RIFuture, “it’s absurd that there’s such limited public access to the water in the capital city of the Ocean State.” Both locations are excellent fishing spots, and, as Segal notes, “with the market at bottom, it’s the fiscally prudent time” to act. Fort Adams is an important part of the state’s historic and cultural fabric, and plays host to big money-making events like the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. Keeping this landmark in good shape is crucial.

The three bond questions offer simple, common sense propositions that, if approved, would create jobs, maintain the state’s infrastructure, strengthen its higher education system and preserve valuable open space along the water. If you’re going to the polls on Nov. 2, I encourage you to vote yes on Questions 2, 3 and 4.

Dan Davidson ‘11.5 is a political science concentrator from Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at daniel_davidson [at] brown.edu.