No two words better summarize the questions appearing on the November 6 ballot than money and jobs.
The money comes in two forms – what it is going to cost for the state to borrow a total of $207 million should voters approved Questions 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and how much money the state is likely to reap in the form of added gaming revenues if voters approve Questions 1 and 2. The answer to the cost question is more than $100 million in addition to the principal of $207 million at an assumed interest rate of 4 percent over 20 years.
As for what casino gaming at Twin River and Newport Grand will mean in added state revenues is more of a crapshoot. Already, proceeds from slots at the two parlors collectively represent the third largest source of state revenues behind the income and sales taxes.
The concern, Rhode Islanders are being told, is that with casinos planned for Massachusetts, patrons will go there and so will their dollars if they can’t play poker, roulette, blackjack and other table games here. The threat is that the state could see a decline in gaming revenues, thereby increasing pressure on other forms of taxation as well as undesirable budget cuts.
Projections put the added revenues of table games at $20.8 million, but unlike borrowing costs that are fairly predictable, it’s a guess that could be far on either side of the mark.
It’s hard to calculate, too, exactly what impact all the questions will have on jobs, although this is the icing that is being used to sell voters on the issues.
Twin River is saying table games would immediately mean 350 additional jobs. Newport Grand projects 50 new jobs. That benefit resonates in a state where unemployment has hovered in double digits for more than four years.
“This is about jobs and revenue protection,” says John Taylor, Twin River board chairman. Should voters give table games the green light, Taylor would hope to have 65 tables up and running and all added personnel trained by July of next year. He feels it is critical patrons have a good experience at Twin River so that the casino can build relationships and have customers coming back after they have sampled what Massachusetts will have to offer. Casinos there are projected to be operational by 2017 or the following year.
Taylor says Twin River supports Question 2 that would allow Newport to offer table games, too.
“It is in the best interest of both to have a full complement of games,” he said.
Diane Hurley, Newport Grand CEO whose father started the business 36 years ago, is in agreement. She said what has happened in Massachusetts “is a game changer.” Further, she says Newport, which she called a world-class resort offering 10,000 hotel/motel rooms within the area, draws visitors who are table game players. She reasons they would still come to Newport but would drive to Massachusetts casinos if table games weren’t available in Newport.
Not only do Twin River and Newport Grand need statewide approval to implement table games but also voter approval of their host communities, Lincoln and Newport, respectively.
Questions 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 all involve the construction or the renovation of buildings and state and municipal infrastructures.
Question 3 is specific to Rhode Island College and if approved would enable the college to borrow $50 million to renovate and modernize academic buildings. The college is also looking to expand health and nursing facilities. Unlike Questions 1 and 2, where in excess of $4 million will be spent to sway voters, the college campaign is without the funds for extensive advertising. Earlier this summer, RIC President Nancy Carriuolo gave a reporter from these newspapers a tour of the nursing program facilities, pointing out cramped conditions and how bonds funds would be used to expand those facilities and modernize other buildings.
A similar “show the premises” campaign to illustrate the need, although on a less intimate basis, was mounted last week to promote the $94 million the Veterans’ Home could borrow if voters approve Question 4. The money would be used to build a new 225-bed veterans home, a 75-bed assisted living facility and renovate existing facilities that date back to the 1950s in Bristol. The bond has the support of Gov. Lincoln Chafee and the congressional delegation.
Supporters of Question 5 and Question 6 have teamed up in efforts to telegraph the environmental benefits of the two $20 million bonds that would finance wastewater treatment projects, drinking water projects and provide funds for open space acquisition, watershed restoration and provide grants for the acquisition of farmland development rights, development of local recreational areas and to municipalities for the renovation and development of historic and passive recreation areas.
If approved, Question 5 would enable the Clean Water Finance Agency to borrow $12 million for water pollution abatement projects. The agency would borrow an additional $8 million for drinking water projects. It is estimated the funds that would be loaned to municipalities at below market rates and that they would “leverage” up to an additional $100 million in federal funds.
The $20 million for the Department of Environmental Management that makes up Question 5 would also be leveraged with municipal funds for open space acquisitions and a host of projects from Narragansett Bay and watershed restoration to the purchase of farmland development rights. Both questions have the support of Save the Bay, Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups.
Leveraging and jobs are words used frequently by advocates for Question 7, a bond that would provide $25 million to the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission for affordable housing. The funds are expected to generate an additional $150 million in affordable housing construction and 600 affordable homes.
Jean Johnson, executive director of the House of Hope, has seen how funds can be leveraged. Through various programs and the Warwick Community Development Block Grant, the House of Hope was able to renovate properties that had been foreclosed providing work to the construction trades industry. Moreover, as supporters of the bond observe, renovations and new construction has strengthened neighborhoods with lasting, good quality projects that have the effect of stimulating overall neighborhood improvements.
According to Nellie Gorbea, executive director of HousingWorks Rhode Island, the last affordable housing bond issue created 6,100 jobs. Should voters approve this one, she said it would create 3,000 construction related jobs.