Ballot questions summarized
Although the ballot list is shorter than four years ago, election watchers are wondering if two issues may attract enough island voters to at least match the previous mid-term election turnout of 65 percent in 2002.
The leading topics are national issues and gambling in the state. The election is mid-term for the country's president, and its outcome is considered telling for the federal administration.
Some observers believe the town's 1,117 Democrats and some of its 2,913 unaffiliated voters may respond to widespread calls for sending a message to the national Republican leadership who have only 750 registered voters in Jamestown.
The island has a corps of peace advocates who criticize the actions of the Republican administration of President Bush in the wars on terrorism and in Iraq, and many other aspects of his positions concerning the environment and the economy. Throughout the state, many politicians and observers of campaign scenes are saying that votes on congressional seats, as well as for the governor, may be influenced more by national policies than by state matters. Others don't agree.
Voters in Jamestown and throughout Rhode Island will have a say next week on spending $229 million that the state wants to spend over the next three to five years. The borrowing will incur an estimated $170,520,940 in interest, at an assumed rate of 6 percent for 20 years. Such spending is the subject of six of the nine questions on the Nov. 7 ballot. The proposed ballot spending is in addition to regular operating expenses and some spending on capital improvements within the adopted annual administrative budget of nearly $7 billion.
There has been relatively little public discussion of any of the spending questions.
One ballot question involves affordable housing. The matter of affordable housing frequently is a topic at Planning Commission and Town Council meetings in Jamestown, where officials, administrators, and some residents have been working for years to meet the shortfall of affordable housing on the island. The planning commissioners and councilors are on record as supporting affordable housing here in general and through local budget allocations.
Some communities adopted resolutions supporting the affordable housing question on the ballot. The council, side tracked by the casino controversy, did not get to the housing matter and some members expressed concern that they should have done more on that topic.
The most discussed question seems to have been about the proposed casino in West Warwick, where the Narragansett Indian Tribe would use its property to partner with the Harrah gaming corporation, or its successor, to operate a gaming facility. The effort has been ongoing for many years, with state officials rejecting various proposals. This election's effort represents the Tribe's decision to get directly to voters by using a constitutional amendment to put the casino on the ballot.
The debate has ranged from review of the ways Rhode Island treats its Native Americans differently than other states, to fears that whoever is the partner will overshadow everyone else, including existing casino operators in the state. Opponents say the Constitution should not be used to enable the casino, and that the casino will result in losses rather than profits for the state. Proponents said the constitutional amendment approach was forced by officials, and that they are sure the state will benefit from the casino.
Gambling is the substance of the first question needing a vote. Some townspeople have been notably active in the battle over
having a casino in the state. The casino is enmeshed in concerns that state laws and leaders have blocked the Narragansett Indians from control over their own properties. Casino backers said that state maneuvering on the casino issue led to the current ballot question. The question says that the casino might be allowed only through a constitutional change.
Local casino backers seemed to get Town Council members to back away from a resolution denouncing the gambling matter. Some councilors pointed out that they are on the record with an earlier resolution against expansion of gambling in general and they did not want to grapple with the constitutional aspect and additional elements of the casino ballot question.
Approving the second ballot question would amend the state Constitution to allow
those serving sentences for felony convictions to have their voting rights restored upon their release from jail. Existing laws make them wait until their probation or parole requirements are completed. The amendment is seen as a measure to extend voting rights to more minorities, who are jailed in disproportionate numbers and cannot vote as soon as they get out of jail.
The third ballot question is another a proposed amendment to the state Constitution, and deals with how the state sets aside money for spending emergencies. The current rule is that at least 2 percent and no more than 3 percent of the general revenues are for reserves or contingencies. This rule also provides that money not used for emergencies will be used to pay off debt. If the proposed amendment is approved, the balance would immediately be used for capital spending. If approved, the amendment would go into effect in seven years and raise the set-aside to at least 3 percent and no more than 5 percent.
The fourth ballot question is the first of six asking to borrow money at an expected rate of 6 percent for 20 years for big projects. This question proposes to borrow $72,790,000, which is expected to cost $54,133,278 in interest, to build a new $65 million pharmacy college at the University of Rhode Island and to renovate a building at Rhode Island College for $7.79 million.
This question proposes to borrow $88.5 million, which would cost $65.82 million in interest, for the state Department of Transportation. Some $80 million would be used to match federal grants or used directly for work on roads and bridges. About $7 million would be for matching or direct commuter-rail projects; and $1.5 million would be used to buy or repair new or existing state bus fleet vehicles.
The sixth question proposes to borrow $11 million, with expected interest costs of $8,180,602, to be channeled through the state Department of Environmental Management to the city of Providence with matching federal, state, and private grants for improvements and developments of exhibits and facilities at Roger Williams State Zoo.
This question proposes to borrow $4 million, with expected interest costs of $2,974,764, to be used by the DEM for improvements to recreational facilities and for renovations at the Fort Adams State Park in Newport.
The eighth question proposes to borrow $3 million, with expected interest costs of $2,231,073, for the DEM to help fund purchases or repairs for recreational facilities in various communities throughout the state.
This proposes to borrow $50 million, with expected interest costs of $37,184,557, for affordable apartments and houses through the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission. Over four years, $40 million would go toward affordable apartments, and $10 million would be used for affordable houses. The borrowed money would provide matching funds for deferred payments. State officials expect the funding to generate an addiional $450 million in funding from other sources.
The figures used for this report were taken from the voter handbook prepared by the Office of the Secretary of State with assistance of various state offices.