Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence and Johnston, introduced legislation in the General Assembly that would place a $50 fee per semester on every out-of-state student attending Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson and Wales University Feb. 14. The money raised from this fee would cover the redevelopment of the land opened up by the relocation of I-195, an area each university included in the fee has expressed interest in acquiring. Carnevale said in a press release he chose to raise funds from these universities because he did not want the state to invest heavily in land that would ultimately benefit “wealthy institutions” more than taxpayers.
“If one of those schools buys some land today, relatively cheap, and sells it five years from now when the area is active and thriving, who will reap the profit? Not the taxpayers,” Carnevale said in the press release.
The University negotiated with the city to acquire the land in June, but no specific plans came to fruition.
The state budget allocates $250,000 to the I-195 Commission to cover marketing and selling of the area, according to a press release, but the Commission has estimated that the project requires an additional $800,000 a year to fund the hiring of an executive director and to expand development. The $50 per semester fee placed on out-of-state students would amount to approximately $1.6 million annually — about double what the I-195 Commission requested. Carnevale said in a press release that the universities ought to invest in the community, especially if they plan to purchase a parcel of land and would reap the most benefit from its development.
“If these schools are so committed to a presence in this development district, they should be willing and able to fund the work necessary to make this district a success,” he said.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 included an additional $500,000 in his budget for next year to speed up the I-195 Commission’s work on the area’s redevelopment.
Critics of the bill argue the proposed legislation “puts a tax on learning, on one class of citizens,” said Daniel Egan, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island. He said institutions like Brown, Johnson and Wales and RISD have already contributed large amounts of money to the city. In the next 11 years, Brown alone has promised to give the city of Providence $31.5 million dollars, an amount agreed upon in May 2011. RISD and Johnson and Wales have also recently agreed to increase their annual payments to the city.
Egan added that “in these tough economic times, institutions are looking to grow financial aid opportunities,” and should not be punishing students that are worse off financially.
“We will testify … and we will highlight what the institutions have done (for the city),” he said.
“Students shouldn’t be paying more, the institution should be paying it,” said Rep. Joe Lombardi, D-Providence, a co-sponsor of the bill. taxpayers have had to adapt to numerous new taxes in the past few years and should not have to pay for redevelopment on top of everything, he said.
“Providence taxpayers are already being taxed out of their homes,” Lombardi said. “Those that can most support it should be paying it.”
Providence has to provide all tax-exempt institutions with infrastructure, so when those institutions have the means to help the community, they should not hesitate, Lombardi said.
Brown will present to the I-195 Commission regarding future plans in March.