Perhaps thousands of jobs are at stake as voters wrap up voting on Tuesday on seven bond issues, totaling $400 million that call for numerous construction projects, from port development to affordable housing.

Thousands of Rhode Islanders have been voting since February 10 when early voting began at local city and town halls. The final day for voting is Tuesday, March 2, where voting is at traditional voting places.

To date, the turnout appears light. As of Feb 26, the latest date reported on the Secretary of State’s website, 6,700 Rhode Islanders voted early and another 64,128 had submitted ballots by mail.

Special interest groups associated with each of the bond issues have been actively campaigning, along with General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. 

The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, an independent and well-respected body that analyzes state finances among its areas of interest, is supportive of the bond issues.

“RIPEC supports the $400 million of borrowing to be submitted to the voters at the March 2 special election,” RIPEC says in its analysis. “Affordability is only part of the equation, however. Each proposed bond referendum should also be analyzed in terms of return on investment, consistency with long-term state debt obligations, alignment with state policy goals, and the opportunity costs if investments are not improved.”

Here’s a look at each of the bonds:

  • Question 1: Issues $107.3 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, the Rhode Island College Clarke Science Building, and the Community College of Rhode Island. RIPEC says the state has “historically” under invested in public higher education compared to other states, and general revenues for higher education have grown slower than total expenditures. RIPEC calls passage of this bond “essential.”
  • Question 2: Issues $74 million in bonds for state beaches, parks, recreational facilities, and water projects. Again, RIPEC says the state has underinvested in these programs compared to other states and calls the investment in a municipal resiliency program “perhaps the state’s first major financial commitment to respond to the risks of climate change.”
  • Question 3: Issues $65 million in bonds for building and renovating public housing projects. While meeting a “critical need,” RIPEC says, the bond is limited because it is not part of an overall state housing policy, something that housing advocates say is essential if Rhode Island is to truly address the affordable housing crisis. 
  • Question 4: Issues $71.7 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure. Here, RIPEC says these funds are needed to make up for lost gasoline tax revenue, and loss of other funding.
  • Question 5: Issues $15 million in bonds for the Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund. RIPEC says this funding effort is important because it improves the “quality of early childhood education and would respond to a demonstrated unmet need for capital improvements in pre-K and childcare facilities.” 
  • Question 6: Issues $7 million in bonds for the Cultural Arts and the Economy Grant Program and the State Preservation Grants Program. RIPEC says this funding, less than the $35 million 2014 bond, “builds on existing grant programs with successful track records.”
  • Question 7: Issues $60 million in bonds to fund improvements to industrial facilities infrastructure. This bond invests $40 million for industrial site development statewide and $20 million to modernize the Port of Davisville. RIPEC sees this bond providing “significant benefits to communities and private developers.”

For further information about each of the bonds, to find your polling place, visit the Secretary of State website www.sos.ri.gov.

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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.