2015-03-26 / Opinion

Slater No Sleeping Giant

The name Scott A. Slater probably does not command significant recognition in Newport or the rest of Aquidneck Island. Nor should it, we suppose.

But Newport residents still smarting from last year’s midnight General Assembly antics that gave us another controversial and divisive casino referendum on the November ballot must soon awaken to Slater’s handiwork. That would be a bill that would create a new agency of state government, to be called the “department of state marine patrol.” The bill would afford department agents full “police powers” to “patrol the open bay and all waters within three miles of the Rhode Island coastline.”

The measure, an expanded version of an earlier Slater measure, has stirred up a firestorm of controversy in Rhode Island’s 17 coastline communities— particularly in Newport.

A Democratic member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives who lives in the South Elmwood section of Providence, Rep. Slater is part of the House power structure. A deputy majority leader, he is also a member of the House Finance Committee, arguably the most significant legislative panel because it annually handles the state budget. In his day job, Slater is a budget analyst for the city of Providence.

His resume marks the Providence lawmaker as a savvy political operative who knows something about finance.

In Newport, city officials and state lawmakers have expressed their displeasure with the latest Slater bill (See story on page 1).

The measure also sets state mooring fees to be collected in support of this new state agency—fees that would be charged to boat owners on top of local fees that have long been collected by the cities and towns with coastal moorings. In Newport, those fees amount to more than $400,000 a year.

Rep. Slater said the bill’s genesis can be traced to a phone call he received from a constituent who complained that there were long waiting lists for coastal mooring space and that many spaces have long been occupied by out-of-state boaters.

Be that as it may, we tend to agree with Newport officials who regard the Slater bill as a needless duplication of services that are already provided ably by cities and towns as well as the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the United States Coast Guard.

Newport’s own harbormaster, Tim Mills, said the Slater bill would result in boaters with moorings in communities such as Newport “paying twice for the same thing.” It’s awfully difficult, we think, to argue with the harbormaster’s logic.

We would also point out that aside from declaring that the new state “department” to be created under the Slater bill would be supported by the proposed new state mooring fees, the legislation makes no mention of an actual budget for this ill-conceived venture. That sounds to us like a new state agency with the potential to result in another needless waste of money, time and energy.

It also points to another truth worth mentioning. Standing on the front steps of City Hall in Newport, you are 34.4 miles from the Rhode Island Statehouse. That’s a “two-bridge” trip up the west side of the bay. Not a long drive, really, if you care about what happens in Newport.

Slater said he hopes to soon have a committee hearing for his bill. He says he is not averse to revising the measure if strong testimony uncovers concerns.

We’d suggest a different fate—scrap the legislation completely. But that may only happen if the people of Newport and other coastal communities loudly object to the measure.

Newporters, this issue demands your attention. You ignore what goes on at the Statehouse at your own peril. Local General Assembly officials: Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton); President of the Senate, M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Middletown); Rep. Marvin Abney (D-Dist. 73, Middletown, Newport); Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) Rep. Lauren Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Daniel Patrick Reilly (D-Dist. 72, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth)

For more information visit http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/News/

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