Rhode Islanders to vote on $400M in bond questions

An electronic ballot box. File photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to consider about $400 million in proposed state spending.

The special election is focused on seven bond measures; there are no elected offices up for grabs on the ballot.

The largest proposal is Question 1, which would authorize the state to borrow more than $107 million for several projects at the state’s three public colleges, including more than $57 million to rebuild the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center.

Question 2 would allow for the borrowing of $74 million for environmental and recreation projects, including $33 million for state beaches, parks and campgrounds.

Question 3 would allow for the borrowing of $65 million to build and rehabilitate housing, in particular affordable units.

Question 4 would replenish $72 million in funding for state Department of Transportation construction projects.

Question 5 would borrow $15 million for the Department of Human Services to distribute to fix, expand or build new early childhood and day care classrooms.

Question 6 would borrow $7 million for arts and cultural grants.

Question 7 would borrow $60 million to build new industrial parks and continue to pay for the reconstruction of piers at Quonset’s Port of Davisville.

If all seven questions are approved, the $400 million in borrowing would translate to more than $640 million over 20 years when interest is factored, assuming a 5% interest rate, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office estimates.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close 8 p.m. on Tuesday. But like the November election, Rhode Islanders had the option to cast ballots by mail or in-person during an early voting period, which began Feb. 10.

More than 64,000 voters had submitted mail ballots as of Friday, according to Gorbea’s office.

Typically, bond questions are included on the November ballot, but the state legislature didn’t approve the proposals in time this year.

The General Assembly only approved the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 in late December, delaying final passage of the $12.7 billion spending plan because of the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic.