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As Rhode Islanders enter the voting booth next week, they will be confronted by seven questions, two of them involving the expansion of gambling in the Ocean State, the other five asking for approval for more than $200 million of bond issuance.
Questions 1 and 2
As it stands, revenue generated by Newport Grand and Twin River is the third-largest source of income for state government, less than income, and sales and use taxes. It seems highly unlikely that there will be a significant increase in either source in the near or intermediate future.
At the same time, Massachusetts is well on the way to establishing three casinos of its own, thus jeopardizing Rhode Island’s gaming revenue.
For that reason, Rhode Island must vote to approve the expansion of Newport Grand and Twin River into full-fledged casinos. In addition, in order to allow the expansions to take place, the residents of those communities must approve the expansions as well.
Questions 3 through 7
Overshadowing all bond questions is Rhode Island’s structural budget deficit. It is clear that without compelling evidence of positive long-term economic effects, the state cannot afford all the bonds being offered on the ballot.
The first bond question concerns $50 million to renovate and modernize health and nursing facilities at Rhode Island College. One of the state’s strongest economic sectors is health care, so it is clear that investments must be ongoing in order to remain competitive. For that reason, voters must vote yes on Question 3.
The next question on the ballot concerns $94 million in bonds designated to build a new Veterans’ Home and update other related facilities. While there is no question that our veterans deserve the best care, this is one instance in which the time is not right for this initiative. Voters, therefore, must vote no on Question 4.
In asking for $20 million to help improve the quality of the state’s drinking water and water-pollution abatement efforts, the question is not so much about direct economic effects but rather what kind of environment does Rhode Island present to its citizens and prospective employers. For that reason, voters must approve Question 5.
While it is true that one of Rhode Island’s strengths is its access to the undeveloped spaces, this debt, too, cannot be assumed until Rhode Island gets its fiscal house in order. Thus, we call for rejection of Question 6’s $20 million request.
The $50 million affordable-housing bond approved by voters in 2006 generated nearly $800 million in total economic activity over its four-year span. Question 7 asks for approval of a $25 million affordable-housing bond, and if it performs as the previous version, the state will see not only a societal good, but nearly half a billion dollars in economic activity. Voters should approve Question 7. •