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Monday, November 5, 2012

Lots of questions on this year’s ballot

Along with many candidates, eleven state and Charlestown issues to vote on
By Will Collette

When you go to the polls on November 6, you will be handed a very long and complex ballot. In addition to being faced with choices for President, US Senate, US House of Representatives, State Senate and State House of Representatives, 11 candidates for Town Council and 10 for Planning Commission, there are seven State referendum questions and four proposed charter changes for Charlestown.

Let’s talk about those referendum questions.

Here’s the very, very short version for those of you who suffer from MEGO ("My eyes glaze over"). In my opinion, you should vote YES for all seven state referendum questions. And in my opinion, you should vote NO on all four Charlestown charter revision questions.

Read on if you want to know why I plan to vote that way and why I suggest you might, too.

Yet so far away from Charlestown
I plan to vote YES on state Questions 1 and 2, but with some misgivings. These two ballot questions authorize changes to the state Constitution to permit full-scale casino gambling at the existing slot parlors, Twin River in Lincoln and Newport Grand in, you guessed it, Newport.

I know the Narragansett Tribe tried to block this vote, arguing that when they tried to get state approval for their planned enterprise with Bally’s in West Warwick they were shot down. I appreciate their anger at being discriminated against.

I also know gambling has ruined many lives, and full-scale casino gambling will ruin many more.

But, let’s face it, the consequences of not staying competitive in the gambling market will have horrific consequences on Rhode Island. Yep, we’re addicted to the revenue we get from gambling and it’s terrible. It’s wrong. But consider the alternative. 

I do not want to see more cuts to public workers, public safety, roads and bridges, schools, municipal aid (and the increased property taxes that would ensue), and all the rest that will be decimated. So, I will hold my nose and vote YES, all the while hoping lightning doesn’t strike me dead.

And, Charlestown, if Questions 1 and 2 pass, it will make a Charlestown casino, currently highly improbable, just about impossible. Again, it sucks, but for Charlestown residents, it's a matter of raw self-interest.

The rest of the state questions are much easier to decide. All five remaining questions ask voters to authorize long-term borrowing to undertake important public projects, most dealing with vitally needed infrastructure. All five of these questions will also create a lot of jobs.

Question 3 will authorize $50,000,000 to renovate and modernize several cruddy old buildings at my alma mater, Rhode Island College. Those buildings were old and cruddy when I went there in the early 1970s. This measure will create construction jobs in the short term and increase RIC’s ability to train students for future jobs in health and nursing. This is a no-brainer.

Question 4 authorizes $94,000,000 to build a new veterans’ home and to renovate existing facilities. Again, a no-brainer given our moral obligation to our veterans. Not to mention the construction jobs. Too many veterans who need a place to live out their lives are turned away.

Question 5 authorizes $20,000,000 for clean drinking water and wastewater treatment projects. Another no-brainer. Even for those of you who live in Charlestown and are going “huh?” at the thought of public water and sewers, it’s in your self-interest, too, if you ever plan to drink a glass of water outside of our lovely little town or prefer not to have raw sewage flowing along our oceanfront from old facilities sited in our coastal towns. And then there’s the construction jobs.

Question 6 authorizes $20,000,000 for six different environmental management programs. Many of these are CCA favorites, too, such as open space acquisition (let’s hear it, CCA). Think of it, Ruth, more state money for your next Y-Gate opportunity. There’s also money for watershed protection, farmland preservation, parks and recreation. 

While the direct, short-term job creation from these programs is less tangible than the bonds that authorize construction projects, there are certainly plenty of other benefits in this bond question to make us join hands with the CCA and sing Kumbaya. 

Seriously, though, I think this ballot Question is great. The six programs it will fund are necessary, including the open space acquisition one. As we’ve reported in Progressive Charlestown, RIDEM is actually pretty good at picking up some great bargains on open space (click here and here for examples).

But the music will end, at least for the CCA, at Question 7, which authorizes $25,000,000 for affordable housing. Perhaps the CCA can overcome its hatred of affordable housing and join in support of Question 7 because it explicitly authorizes the use of the funds for “redevelopment of existing structures.” I think this is a no-brainer on so many levels. 

Speaking of no-brainers, CCA Town Council candidate George Tremblay has made his bizarre case against Question 7 - click here for more detail.

It’s time we were all “tax-and-spend” liberals

Conservatives, like Tea Party darling Rep. Joe Trillo, oppose all the bond issues because they see them as the creations of evil “tax-and-spend” liberals. Yes, Joe, I am one of those for sure. I think the best way for Rhode Island to get out of this awful recession we’re stuck in is to work our way out of it.

Each of these bond questions, including especially the two nasty casino questions, create lots of jobs, especially in the construction industry, which has been in the toilet since the recession sunk in. Each deals with a very clear and identifiable need, again including the nasty casino questions (in their case, the need is the filthy lucre they generate). The other ballot questions are about infrastructure needs.

Yes, Questions 3 through 7 will increase the state’s long-term debt. But we’re dying here and we need this. Frankly, I’m sick of the Tea Party b.s. about debt that only seemed to materialize after George W. Bush left office. Rhode Island is suffering its own Great Depression, and these projects are Rhode Island’s version of the WPA. Let’s get it done.

Charlestown’s Feeble Four

Charlestown’s CRAC (Charter Revision Advisory Committee) left us with four ballot questions to decide on November 6. I have already covered these final four (out of eight) questions in quite a bit of detail (click here for all the coverage). Here’s a quick summary.

The CRAC was stacked by the Ill Wind RI group that fought against Larry LeBlanc’s proposed industrial wind turbine project. They glommed on to the Charter as a way to do some payback against those people and institutions they blamed for that project. Spurred on by Donna and Mike Chambers, the CRAC floated an array of truly terrible ideas for Charter changes, but luckily, the system worked.

Commission heads, town staff professionals and concerned citizens stood up against the more CRAC-pot ideas, and out of a total of eight proposals, only four remain.

Click image to enlarge.
If Dan Slattery gets his CIP Charter amendment
through, it will be the ONLY 2010 CCA 
campaign promise kept
However, all four Charlestown ballot questions fail to address real needs and do not merit voter support.

For example, do we really need to change the Charlestown Charter to appease CCA Town Councilor Dan Slattery’s obsession with the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)? For his benefit, we will get to vote on a Charter change requiring the town to do a CIP, even though the town Charter already says we have to do a CIP, state law says we have to do a CIP and Charlestown is already doing a CIP. 

But Dan wants this. He made this a campaign promise in 2010 and, frankly, if he doesn’t get it, it will mean that he has kept none of his campaign promises. And, gee, we can’t do that to poor Deputy Dan. 

I am voting no because we should not be encouraging this sort of irresponsible behavior. There are enough real issues to be dealt with that we don’t need to be expending time and effort on Chicken Little ones.

Voters will also be asked whether to make it a Charter requirement that the #1 vote-getter is named Council President and the #2 vote-getter becomes Vice-President. This is already common practice except when the other three Council members are political opponents of the top two vote-getters. By making it a Charter mandate, we could guarantee two years of Council gridlock in such cases. And for what benefit?

Donna Chambers - lead CRAC proponent
of vindictive Charter proposals
The CRACers managed to finally sufficiently water down one of their most fervent hopes, a Charter change that would prevent future Town Councils from entering into partnerships like the kind that gave the Whalerock wind proposal early momentum. 

In their zeal to change the past by hamstringing the future, the CRACers ran smack-dab into a lot of questions about how this would actually work that they just couldn’t answer. So what’s left for the voters to say yes or no to is a proposal that requires any partnership that involves a financial commitment by the Town Council to be openly heard and approved. 

Duh. Even their much-hated Whalerock partnership had its open discussion. The Council finally signed off on the language that you will actually see on the ballot because it is now pretty meaningless. Harmless. 

But I still will vote NO, again because I don’t like to encourage this kind of nonsense.

There's one of the four proposed Charter changes that has the potential to increase costs or cause problems, and that’s the proposal to add minutely detailed instructions into the Charter on how the town will handle necessary purchases. It is the worst kind of micromanagement and totally inappropriate to put in the Charter. 

Acting Town Administrator Pat Anderson told the CRAC that the town already complies with state law, gets a clean bill of health from the auditors and, besides, the town just changed the Charter provisions on purchasing two years ago and having to do it all over again is not just a pain in the ass but costly.

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the CRAC really, really, really wanted this one, and the Town Council pretty much threw up its hands and said OK. I will be voting NO to this one, too.

So there you have it. I will be voting YES for all seven state ballot questions – two of them for evil casinos that are not, I repeat, not in Charlestown (do you hear me, Ruth?) and five outstanding capital projects that will create jobs and address crucial infrastructure needs.

I will be voting NO on all four Charlestown questions. Three are pointless and one is not only unnecessary but costly.

You can either take my word for it, or do your own homework and make up your own minds. Or give them all a pass.