2016-10-06 / Opinion

2016 Ballot Questions

By Tom Walsh

Newporters will find seven statewide questions on the ballot when they head to the polls on Nov. 8.

QUESTION 1: Shall a state-operated gambling facility be authorized to offer video lottery games and casino gaming in the Town of Tiverton?

The bill placing this question on the ballot requires that the gambling facility be licensed as a pari mutuel facility and would have state-operated video lottery games and casino gaming. The legislation also mandates that the state receive 15.5 percent of table and 61 percent of video lottery terminal revenues. Tiverton would retain 1 percent of table game and 1.45 percent of video lottery terminal revenues. The town is guaranteed to receive at least $3 million a year. Voters both statewide and in the Town of Tiverton must approve the question for it to go into effect.

QUESTION 2: Restoration of Ethics Commission jurisdiction over General Assembly members

Voter approval of this question would amend the Rhode Island Constitution to restore the authority of the state Ethics Commission to investigate or prosecute alleged misconduct of lawmakers regarding their legislative activities. Approval of Question 2 would undo a state Supreme Court ruling that determined that the “Speech in Debate” clause of the state Constitution provides lawmakers with immunity from investigation regarding their legislative actions.

BOND QUESTIONS

The following introductory language appears for Questions 3-7, all of which pertain to state borrowing through bonds:

“Shall the action of the General Assembly, by an act passed at the January 2016 session, authorizing the issuance of bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes of the state for the capital projects and in the amount with respect to each such project listed below be approved, and the issuance of bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes authorized in accordance with the provisions of said act?”

QUESTION 3: Rhode Island Veterans Home Bonds, $27 million

This question asks for voter approval for the state to issue $27 million in general obligation bonds to pay for construction of a new veterans’ home and for maintenance of existing facilities. The current veterans’ home is located at 480 Metacom Avenue in Bristol. The oldest of the current buildings that comprise the home were built in 1955. The last major renovations occurred 30 years ago.

QUESTION 4: Rhode Island Higher Education Bonds, $45.5 million

Approval of this question would result in $25.5 million in bonds issued to renovate Bliss Hall, one of the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering’s oldest buildings. It would also be used to update other buildings.

The remaining $20 million would be used to build at least one “innovation campus” involving business collaborations with the University of Rhode Island. In November, 2014, Rhode Island voters approved a similar bond issue.

QUESTION 5: Rhode Island Port Infrastructure Bonds, $70 million

Voter approval of Question 5 would enable borrowing to improve shipping ports in Davisville, at Quonset Point, and in Providence. The Davisville port project would require $50 million and would involve infrastructure modernization, including Pier 2, which was built in 1956 with a design life of 50 years. Overall, state officials consider the facilities at Quonset Point to be key drivers of economic and job growth for Rhode Island.

The other $20 million would be used to acquire up to 25 acres of land in Providence between Allens Avenue and the Providence River, as well as infrastructure improvements associated with the acquisition.

QUESTION 6: Rhode Island Environmental and Recreational Improvement Bonds, $35 million

These bonds would be allocated as follows: $4 million for acquiring fee-simple interest or conservation easements to open space, farmland, watershed, and recreation lands; $10 million for designing and building bikeways; $5 million for providing up to 80 percent in matching grants to public, private, and/or nonprofit entities for brownfield remediation projects; $3 million for providing up to 75 percent in matching grants to public, private, and/or nonprofit entities for stormwater pollution reduction projects; $5 million for providing up to 80 percent in matching grants to municipalities for public recreational facilities development; and $4 million for providing 50 percent in matching grants to municipalities, local land trusts and nonprofit organizations for fee-simple interest, development rights, or conservation easements acquisition on open space and urban parklands.

QUESTION 7: Rhode Island Affordable Housing Bonds, $50 million

These bonds would be used to enable the state Housing Resource Commission to develop affordable housing opportunity programs ($40 million). The remaining $10 million would be used for revitalizing properties (including residential and commercial properties, as well as public spaces). A similar bond issue was approved by Rhode Islanders in 2012.

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