Lawmakers to consider largest bond in RI history

Lincoln Chafee waves at the 2014 State of the State speech.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Gordon Fox wants to “crunch the numbers” before he lets voters consider the biggest bond referendum in Rhode Island history.

Under Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s $8.5 billion budget proposal, voters would be asked to approve $275 million in new state borrowing when they go to the polls in November.

One proposal – $125 million earmarked for the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering – would be the state’s biggest single bond question ever.

During a taping Thursday of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Chafee said he had some “reservations” about putting such a big ticket item before the voters, but he was convinced after talking to private sector leaders.

“Other companies … were calling please put that on the ballot and we’ll come up with some private money up also,” Chafee said. “So I’m now enthusiastically supportive.”

He said one of the companies pledging support is Toray Plastics, a major manufacturer located in North Kingstown. Chafee said the money would be used to grow the engineering school at URI and make needed renovations on the school’s existing structures.

Fox cited the proposed borrowing as his single biggest concern about Chafee’s budget moments after the governor’s State of the State address Wednesday.

“There is a e on the bonds, so obviously the things we have to look at is what’s the future cost of that in the out-years?” Fox said. “We have to crunch the numbers and see exactly what our finance committee chairmen look at and come up with.”

In addition to the URI project, Chafee is proposing a $75 million bond to go to environmental projects, a $40 million bond to invest in mass-transit hubs such as Providence’s Kennedy Plaza, and a $35 million bond to fund upgrades at local arts and cultural organizations.

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