86% of Providence voters supported a $40M bond the city can’t use

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It doesn’t matter that 35,574 Providence voters supported a plan to allow the city to borrow $40 million to repair roads, sidewalks and recreation centers. Sixteen Democrats in City Hall have spoken.

City voters overwhelmingly approved Question 8 Tuesday, but the inability of Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Providence City Council to reach an agreement before Election Day over how to spend the $40 million means the city is not allowed to borrow the funds, according to Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for the mayor.

“It’s encouraging to see that voters are supportive of these infrastructure investments,” Crowell said Wednesday. “We’re going to continue to look for ways to make these investments.”

All told, a larger percentage of Providence voters approved Question 8 – 86% – than any of the seven statewide ballot questions, most of which they supported by large margins. The only question that came close to defeat in Providence was the Tiverton casino, which was opposed by 46% of city voters.

The administration and the council clashed over the bond proposal for several months leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

In order to place the question on the ballot, the two sides agreed to an ordinance that included a provision requiring a spending plan to be approved by the council prior to Election Day. The two sides never published a list of infrastructure projects.

When the council introduced a resolution that would give individual councilors more control over some of the proceeds, Elorza called the proposal a “slush fund” and threatened a veto. The council then withdrew its support altogether, citing the city’s bleak finances.

Administration officials have already said they may consider borrowing millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements through the Providence Public Buildings Authority (PBA), a city agency that does not need voter approval to float a bond.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan