Touting that a $45.5 million higher education bond will attract high-paying, high-tech jobs, state and education officials called approval of this referendum “critical” in the growth of the state’s economy.

Specifically, the bond provides funding to continue an overhaul of URI’s engineering school facilities, and the development of a URI affiliated Innovation Campus.

“Approval of this ballot question is critical to moving Rhode Island’s economy forward by investing in engineering and innovation,” said Gov. Gina M. Raimondo at the kick-off of the Vote Yes on 4 campaign in early October. She predicted that combined, the projects will help to “turn cutting edge research from our world-class higher education institutions into real jobs right here in our state.”

The bond issue follows another $125 million bond three years ago that was the first of what was projected to be two bonds, the latest the $25.5 million included in Question 4. The goal is to replace most of URI’s aging engineering facilities by 2018.

These investments follow a growing trend on college campuses from Rhode Island to California.

Last year, Brown University broke ground on a new 80,000 square foot, $88 million engineering research building in Providence, funded by donors.

Two years ago, Johnson & Wales broke ground on a $40 million engineering and science center in downtown Providence.

Campuses across the country are doing the same.

Florida International University announced in April plans to build a $150 million, 225,000 square foot engineering building, that FIU suggested would result in 350 additional engineering graduates annually, creating 550 jobs in South Florida.

In California, billions of dollars in projects are in various stages of planning.

The URI projects have been criticized, along with other bond issues, for how much they will be adding to the state’s bonded indebtedness.

What will the bond actually fund?

  • Completion of an overhaul to engineering school buildings at URI, initially funded by a $125 million bond approved by voters three years ago. This year’s bond adds $25.5 million for engineering projects. This represents the largest taxpayer-financed construction project at URI in a quarter century. If approved, the projects that replace most of URI’s engineering facilities are expected to be completed in late 2018, according to published reports.
  • There are some 1,400 undergraduate engineering students at URI. According to the Vote Yes on 4’s website, 96 percent of the class of 2015 are employed or in graduate school, with many working with Rhode Island companies.
  • The bond also provides $20 million for what is described on Vote Yes on 4’s website as “a URI affiliated Innovation Campus,” working “with leading institutions and the private sector to create partnerships that will turn groundbreaking research into innovative jobs of the future.” Details of the plans have remained vague.

Why is the bond important?

  • Proponents suggest that these are the kinds of projects necessary to feed and grow the state’s economy by providing skilled employees for Rhode Island companies. They also believe that both projects will spark the development of new and innovative businesses.
  • Additionally, the projects are expected to create hundreds of construction jobs.


  • The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity is opposing this and all other bond issues, with the exception of ethics (which it support) and Tiverton Casino and Veterans Home (both of which it has taken no position). The other bonds it opposed because of increasing state debt. The Center’s website said “just like families who must tighten their credit card debt and avoid luxuries they cannot afford, voters should reject the exorbitant spending proposed by the state, much of which is earmarked to benefit special interest insiders.” The Center also claims that the state’s interest on debt has increased 90 percent over the last 11 years.
  • Several studies affirm Rhode Island’s rising debt. A website lists Rhode Island state and local debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product fifth highest nationally at 19.33 percent.
  • Another website 24/7 Wall St., lists Rhode Island as 47th in its list of the 50 best and worst run states in America. The survey was conducted in 2015. Rhode Island had the same rank the previous year. In 2015, however, it listed Rhode Island’s debt per capita at $9,068 second highest in the nation. The year before, Rhode Island’s per capita debt was $8,761, third highest nationally. One bright spot is unemployment rate, which went from second highest in the 2014 survey (based on 2013 unemployment rate) at 9.5 percent. In the latest survey, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent, 17th highest.

What is the actual cost?

  • The $45.5 million bond will also cost an additional $27,437,126 in interest, for a total cost of $72,937,126. Cost projections assume a 5 percent interest rate, with bonds amortized with level payments over 20 years.

WhatsUpNewp and What’sUpRhode Island  are profiling each of the statewide referenda, in what promises to be a spirited election from the presidency to local public offices and local issues. ICYMI, here are previous stories that we’ve published –

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.