Rhode Islanders approve $400M in bond questions

Crowds enjoy Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly. File photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — From state college investments to beach and roadway projects, Rhode Island voters approved about $400 million in state spending during a special election Tuesday.

State General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said the bonds, which were approved as the state saw a changing of the guard in the governor’s office Tuesday, will help build a “stronger, brighter future” for the state.

“In times of great crisis, we need to be bold and with these bond measures,” he said in a statement. “Rhode Islanders are spurring local job creation, making ourselves more competitive in the regional and global market and jumpstarting a broad-based recovery from COVID-19.”

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

The largest of the approved proposals was Question 1, which authorizes 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 allows for the borrowing of $74 million for environmental and recreation projects, including $33 million for state beaches, parks and campgrounds.

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

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

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

Question 6 borrows $7 million for arts and cultural grants.

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

The $400 million in borrowing translates to more than $640 million over 20 years when interest is factored, assuming a 5% interest rate, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office.

Like the November election, Rhode Islanders were able to cast ballots by mail or in-person during an early voting period, which began Feb. 10.

Most took advantage of the early voting options, with more than 68,000 voters submitting their ballots by mail, according to WPRI-TV. Another 9,400 voted early in person, and nearly 24,000 cast ballots at polling places on Tuesday, the station reported.

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.