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Voters weigh in on ballot measures

A $125 million bond for URI’s College of Engineering would update facilities and create jobs

Today Rhode Island voters will head to the voting booths, where they will decide seven ballot measures — two constitutional amendments, one automatic ballot referral and four bond issues.


Questions 1 and 2

The ballot’s first two questions will determine the future of gambling in Rhode Island. Passage of Question 1 would alter Rhode Island’s constitution to allow state-operated casino gaming, like table games, at the Newport Grand casino, which currently only houses slot machines. Supporters for passage, including the group Jobs for Newport, argue the measure would increase revenue by $9 million and boost employment by 200 new jobs, as well as retain 175 current jobs.

The referendum’s opponents, including Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling, suggest Question 1 would have a negative impact on Newport’s small business and tourism economy and increase government dependency on revenues from casinos, which they call a “declining industry.”

In order for the first ballot measure to pass, Rhode Island and Newport must log majority support.

Table games were on the ballot in 2012 and though the measure passed statewide, it failed to garner enough votes from Newport voters to go into effect, The Herald previously reported.

Question 2, if passed, would amend the Rhode Island Constitution to prohibit gambling location changes unless there is adequate voter approval — a majority in the location where expansion may occur must give their consent, along with a majority vote in a statewide referendum.

Former Providence mayor and real estate developer Joseph Paolino Jr. P’06 P’17 said he plans to invest $40 million into the casino if the ballot measures pass, The Herald previously reported.

President of Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling Gene McKenna has said he believes a $40 million investment would better serve the state if allocated instead to an “innovation hub” — groups of entrepreneurs and arts who could generate jobs in a community, The Herald previously reported.


Question 3

This constitutional ballot proposition, which appears automatically on the ballot every 10 years, will determine whether Rhode Island will hold a constitutional convention. If Question 3 is approved, another election will be held to determine delegates to the convention.

“The convention is a process established in the Rhode Island Constitution to bypass the General Assembly when voters think it has failed to address important issues,” according to Renew R.I., an organization that supports passage.

Opponents include the groups Citizens for Responsible Government and Reject Question 3, who claims on their website that a constitutional convention would be a threat to civil rights and that money necessary to form a convention would be better spent elsewhere.


Question 4

The College of Engineering at University of Rhode Island will receive a $125 million bond from the state if the measure is passed. URI’s engineering facilities have not been updated in over 50 years, Providence Eyewitness News reported at the end of September.

Supporters include the group Engineering Rhode Island’s Future and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, who claim approval of Question 4 would generate 1,500 jobs.

Opponents to all bond questions — Questions 4, 5, 6 and 7 — argue the measures are too costly. According to a study released Oct. 14 by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, taxpayers may have to pay $400 million after interest is taken into account.


Question 5

The state could issue $35 million in bonds to cultural, artistic and historic centers — including the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the Chorus of Westerly, AS220 and WaterFire Providence — for their improvement and preservation if Question 5 is passed. Nine performing arts groups in total would receive $23.1 million in grants. The state preservation grants and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts competitive matching grants would total $5 million and $6.9 million, respectively.

“We think the arts are an economic generator and a local differentiator,” Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, told The Herald in October. “People want to come and live and spend money and work in areas where there’s a thriving arts and cultural scene to supplement their professional life.”

Using the grant, the performing arts groups estimate they could institute capital projects, creating 600 temporary and 600 permanent jobs and “$47 million annually in increased economic activity,” said Randall Rosenbaum, RISCA executive director, in the October Herald article.


Question 6

This measure would authorize the state to issue $35 million in bonds to improve public transportation infrastructure upon passage. Funds may potentially go to transit renovations near the Amtrak station in downtown Providence, The Herald previously reported.

The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce supports Question 6.

Sixty-five organizations, including the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority Riders Alliance, Grow Smart Rhode Island and the auto service organization AAA, have formed the Pro-Transit Hub Coalition, hoping to raise awareness of the bond measure’s benefits, multiple sources have reported.


Question 7

This measure would authorize a $53 million bond for the state to use for environmental and recreational purposes, including flood prevention, farm protection and water pollution infrastructure projects. As part of this bond, the Roger Williams Park Zoo would receive $15 million.

The question’s support is led by the group Vote Yes on 7. Supporters include the Rhode Island Zoological Society, the Environmental Council of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, among others. Supporters argue that the projects funded by the bond would protect the Narragansett Bay, increase jobs and promote tourism and overall quality of life.



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