PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly oppose using taxpayer subsidies to build a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in Providence, while a slim majority favor Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to make trucks pay tolls, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The survey of 403 registered Rhode Island voters found 74% don’t want the government to offer tax breaks or infrastructure upgrades for a new minor-league ballpark, with a majority – 54% – describing themselves as strongly opposed to the idea. But 63% said it’s important for the PawSox to remain in Rhode Island.
The poll is the latest in a series commissioned by Bryant University’s five-year-old Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership, an organization funded by former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld. The survey was conducted Sept. 19 to 21 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. (Fleming & Associates also does polling for WPRI 12.)
The survey found widespread agreement that Rhode Island isn’t doing enough to maintain roads and bridges, with 76% of voters saying state and local governments spend too little on that. Just over half – 53% – back Raimondo’s plan to toll large trucks to fund bridge repairs, with 21% strongly in favor versus 26% strongly opposed.
“You’ve got about 50% of voters expressing either weak support or weak opposition, so they could be moved,” Joe Fleming, who conducted the poll, told WPRI.com. “There could be a lot of movement on this question. There’s a lot of soft support and a lot of soft opposition to it.”
“It shows me that the governor has a lot of work to do politically to have a stronger base of support for the tolls,” Gary Sasse, the Hassenfeld Institute’s director and a former top aide to Gov. Don Carcieri, added.
There was no equivocation, however, on an alternative option raised in the poll: increasing the gas tax. Two-thirds of voters said they oppose doing so.
The survey found modest but continued improvement in Rhode Islanders’ overall mood, with 39% saying the state is moving in the right direction and 40% saying it’s moving in the wrong direction. The last Hassenfeld Institute poll, in April, had 33% saying the state is moving in the right direction; WPRI 12 polls previously put the figure at 24% as of last fall and 12% back in May 2010.
“The direction of the state is still moving slowly towards the right direction,” Fleming said. “It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen numbers as high as 39% in the state of Rhode Island.”
“Don’t get the idea that people are very thrilled with what’s going on,” he added. “They’re just starting to move toward thinking things are going in the right direction.”
There was a clear difference of opinion along party lines, with 55% of self-identified Democrats saying the state is moving in the right direction but only 32% of Republicans and 24% of independents agreeing – perhaps unsurprising in a state where Democrats now control every major office above the rank of Warwick mayor.
The economy continues to be the number one priority among Rhode Island voters, with 31% of those polled saying job opportunities are the most important problem facing the state, trailed by taxes (15%), government corruption (14%), lack of effective leadership (13%), public school performance (11%) and government spending (9%).
The survey showed strong support for maintaining or increasing government spending. Less than a third of voters described spending as too high in any of five areas tested: fire services (28%), police (19%), K-12 education (15%), Medicaid (14%) and roads and bridges (8%). Nearly half (46%) said the state spends too little on K-12 education, and almost half (47%) said the state spends the right amount on police.
On education, the survey found 60% of voters think Rhode Island’s public schools are doing an average or worse job “in providing children with the tools and skills needed for 21st-century jobs.” A majority (51%) say the state’s schools place too much time and emphasis on standardized tests, and a majority (53%) also say they support the expansion of charter schools.
Sasse said the Hassenfeld Institute will conduct its next poll in January.