Study: RI infrastructure spending consistently among the lowest

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island consistently spends less on infrastructure than the vast majority of states, sometimes ranking dead last in recent years, according to a new study.

Researchers at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that between 2000 and 2013, Rhode Island’s state and local governments spent between 1.22% to 1.59% of the state’s annual gross domestic product on capital projects, defined as including “the costs of construction and of the purchase of buildings, equipment, and land and of major alterations.”

Rhode Island spent the lowest amount of any state as a share of the economy in three of those years – 2000, 2004 and 2012 – and ranked third-lowest in 2013, the most recent year for which U.S. Census Bureau data is available, according to the study. As a share of total state spending, though, Rhode Island was closer to the middle, at 4.9% in 2013.

The data may reinforce the widespread consensus in Rhode Island that the state has been spending too little on infrastructure projects, particularly roads and bridges, both of which have been rated the poorest-quality in the country.

Rachel Flum, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ local affiliate, the Economic Progress Institute, argued that the findings show Rhode Island leaders should continue with plans to ramp up spending on infrastructure projects, notably through Gov. Gina Raimondo’s toll-funded RhodeWorks bridge-repair plan.

“This report confirms that the governor and legislative leaders are on the right track committing to a significant overhaul of our roads and bridges, an investment that will increase private sector productivity, and contribute to public safety,” Flum said in a statement.

Most critics of RhodeWorks have repeatedly said they do not disagree on the need for Rhode Island’s public sector to spend more on infrastructure, but have taken issue with the institution of truck tolls to fund the projects, arguing other parts of the budget should be cut instead.

The proposed state budget Raimondo released earlier this month includes $5.4 billion in capital projects that would be completed over the five years between 2016-17 and 2020-21, according to the House Fiscal Office.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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