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Rhode Islanders approve $400 million in state spending in special election

Voters okayed seven ballot measures investing in range of projects

Rhode Islanders approved all seven referenda questions on the ballot in a statewide special election March 2, authorizing the state to borrow a total of $400 million to invest in different projects. Borrowed funds approved in the election will go to projects ranging from transportation to affordable housing.

Just over 100,000 Rhode Islanders turned out for the statewide special election, according to official results on the R.I. Board of Elections website

While all the questions were approved, some measures were more widely supported than others. Certain questions, such as the Beach, Clean Water and Green bond and the Transportation Infrastructure State Match bond, passed with around 80 percent approval. Others, such as the Industrial Facilities Infrastructure bill, passed with below 60 percent approval.

All active registered voters were sent a mail ballot application in January and a Voter Information Handbook in early February debriefing voters on the election and Rhode Island voting procedures, according to a Jan. 11 press release from the Office of the Secretary of State. 

Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner ’06 said that this election was highly unusual both because state bond initiatives are typically voted on during a regular election cycle and because the initiative was for a particularly large sum of money.

“This group of bond proposals altogether is much larger than what we normally do in an election cycle,” Magaziner told The Herald. “We felt it was appropriate because we are in a time (of) crisis …  In times like this, it makes sense to go big.”

The Higher Education Facilities bond of more than $107 million will be designated for improvements to the campuses of  Rhode Island public colleges, including the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island. 

The $74 million Beach, Clean Water and Green bond will be allocated to a variety of environmental projects, including improvements to public parks and recreation facilities and protecting clean water.

The third question, which related to $65 million in housing and community funds, will be used to “increase the availability of affordable housing and support community revitalization through the redevelopment of existing structures, new construction and property acquisition,” according to the Voter Information Handbook

The Transportation Infrastructure State Match bond allocates a total of $358.5 million toward rebuilding Rhode Island’s “deficient roads and bridges,” the handbook said. The bond’s $71.7 million will be combined with $286.8 million funding by the federal government to rebuild transportation infrastructure.

The fifth bond will fund improvements and development of early childhood care and education facilities in the state, the handbook said. 

The sixth bond will allocate $6 million to the Cultural Arts and the Economy Grant Program, which funds improvements to art centers around the state. The $6 million will go toward the Trinity Repertory Company theater, the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the R.I. State Council on the Arts. The last $1 million approved will be given to the State Preservation Grants Program, which helps preserve historic landmarks.

The seventh and final bond on industrial facility infrastructure will give $40 million to industrial site development and $20 million to infrastructure at the Port of Davisville, an industrial shipping port managed by the Quonset Development Corporation.

The Office of the General Treasurer will be issuing the bonds at the lowest possible interest rate and anticipates entering the bond market in the first week of April, Magaziner said. After collecting the proceeds, the money will be put to use “right away,” he added. Many projects will receive funding from the State Budget Office this spring and Magaziner expects all projects, especially some which are larger and more planning-intensive, to be underway by the end of the year. 

The short-term impact of the bonds is job creation, according to Magaziner. “These projects will put thousands of people to work at a time when our unemployment rate is still too high,” he said. “And that will give a short-term boost to our economy and help lots of people get back to work.”

“But then in the longer term,” he added, “all of these projects will improve our state’s quality of life and our economic competitiveness in the long run.”

“We’re definitely happy with the result,” said Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere  Advocacy Chair Gabe Mernoff ’22.5. Mernoff, who voted in the special election, said the Ocean State suffers from a severe lack of safe, affordable housing and that any investment from the public and private sectors is beneficial, referring to Question 3. But he added that a one-time investment is still insufficient: Creating a long-term dedicated funding stream for affordable housing is crucial.

“The state definitely needs to have a (yearly) line item in its budget for affordable housing,” Mernoff said. “Rhode Island spends way less per capita on affordable housing compared to other states.”

Henry Shaefer ’23 voted to approve all of the questions at Providence City Hall during early voting March 1. He said he hopes the money will be “used in the way Rhode Islanders voted for it” to be spent.



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