Election 2016 Focuses on Offices and Numerous State and Local Bond Issues

When voters go to the polls in less than two months they will not only be voting to fill offices, from local school committee to the president, but will consider numerous bond issues, potentially adding millions of dollars to the state and local debt, and potentially significantly changing how government operates in some communities.

Traditionally, presidential elections draw out significant voter turnout and long lines at polling stations. This year should be no exception as voters throughout Rhode Island not only express their presidential preference, but express their will on numerous election positions and issues.

Besides office holders, voters will decide on seven statewide referenda and numerous local issues, from new police stations and elementary schools to significant revisions to town charters.

It’s our intention to review many of these issues over the next several weeks, all statewide and significant local issues.

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Statewide voters will be asked to once again vote on a gambling issues, for ethics oversight of the General Assembly, higher education issues that would build an addition to the engineering building at the university of Rhode Island and create an innovation campus, infrastructure modernization at Quonset, various issues under the banner of a Green economy, school repairs statewide, and a new Veterans Home.

One of the most intriguing local elections will be in Westerly, where voters will consider a $38.5 million elementary school bond issue, and 37 charter revisions, some quite significant. Confusing will be issues where the charter commission and town council have differing views (on seven issues), with both on the ballot, with the potential that both can win approval.

As an example, the Westerly Charter Commission proposes requiring the town’s financial director possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in business, finance or accounting. The council proposal says instead that the town manager should determine eligibility requirements of all municipal employees, including the finance director.

The charter revision proposals also include other significant issues, including changing the term of office for council from two to four years, and placing term limits on council, school committee, and planning and zoning board members.

We’ll explore the Westerly charter issues in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief breakdown of the statewide referenda:

  • Approval of a casino in Tiverton. That would need both statewide and local approval in Tiverton. The proposal would be to essentially move Newport Grand to Tiverton. If approved, it appears the goal is to have the new casino operative sometime in 2017.
  • Once again giving the state ethics commission oversight over the state General Assembly. Several years ago by a court ruling the Assembly was separated from oversight, with the remaining parts of state government still under ethics commission regulations.
  • Higher education bonds of $45.5 million. Some $25.5 million would be to renovate and build an addition to Bliss Hall at URI as the second phase of the Engineering School project. Also, $20 million to build one or more innovation campuses, “through a university-business collaboration for cutting-edged research, product, service and business development,” according to Gov. Raimondo’s budget.
  • A $70 million bond referendum for infrastructure modernization and repairs at the Port of Davisville at Quonset.
  • A $35 million Green Economy bond that provides funds for historic state park development, land acquisition, bikeway development program, Brownfields remediation and economic development, reduction of storm water pollution, and local recreational grants.
  • A $40 million bond that funds the School Building Authority Capital Fund to repair, upgrade, and modernize public schools, focusing on projects involving urgent health and safety needs or investment in science, technology, engineering, art/design and math (STEAM), and career and technical education learning spaces.
  • Building a new Veterans Home and renovation of existing facilities at the home in Bristol, with a price tag of $27 million. This supplements a 2012 bond issue of $94 million.
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