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When voters go to the polls in less than two weeks, they will be voting on far more than local and statewide offices. There are three statewide bond issues, totaling some $400 million, and several local referenda, from legalization of retail marijuana sales to school construction and regionalization.

Early voting begins Oct. 19, with election day Nov. 8. For specifics about the statewide referenda visit the Secretary of State’s website and view the voter guide. For local referenda, also go to the Secretary of State’s website, go to elections and you’ll be able to download a sample ballot. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the statewide and local bond issues.


  • $100 million for construction projects on the University of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay Campus, home to the university’s acclaimed oceanography program. According to the Secretary of State’s voter guide, the $100 million will be used “to construct new facilities” that “would support educational and research needs in ocean engineering, oceanography, and other marine-related disciplines.”
  • $250 million for Rhode Island school buildings, a continuation of the program that has seen new construction and renovation of schools across Rhode Island to promote a safe school environment, designed to meet current and future educational needs. 
  • $50 million for Green Economy Bonds that will be spent on municipal resiliency ($16 million), small business energy loan program ($5 million), Narragansett Bay watershed restoration ($3 million), forest restoration ($3 million), brownfields remediation and economic development ($4 million), state land acquisition program ($3 million), local land acquisition matching grant program ($2 million), local recreation development matching grant program ($2 million), Roger Williams Park and Zoo ($12 million).

Jamestown – Portsmouth

Portsmouth is the only area community without any local referenda, while the only local referendum in Jamestown is a question being asked in many Rhode Island communities, whether the town should issue licenses to businesses involved in “the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing and for retail sale” of cannabis.

Little Compton

Besides the cannabis question, Little Compton has several local referenda, most of which are housekeeping or procedural matters. One measure calls for the removal of the treasurer/tax collector from the list of elected officials, and another specifies that the position should be appointed. And another reinforces current practice by establishing a structure of one tax assessor and the appointment of a tax assessment board of review.


For Middletown, perhaps the local questions are the most significant items on the ballot. Middletown and Newport voters will decide whether to regionalize the school system, and Middletown voters are being asked to approve a $235 million for school construction, of which nearly $190 million would be borne by the state. If either issue fails in Middletown, then regionalization fails. If approved, each community will realize savings of more than $46 million, and significantly increase the state aid they would receive for any future capital projects. 

Middletown voters will also be considering the cannabis retail license question.


Besides school regionalization (discussed under Middletown), city voters will consider the cannabis question, are being asked to approve several procedural matters related to the city charter and will determine whether to establish a Trust and Investment Commission to oversee town investments.


Besides the cannabis question, voters ae being asked to reduce the current budget commission from 11 members to seven and allow the town council to adopt a unified budge incorporating the town and school committee budgets.

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....