This year, the owners of the Pawsox negotiated and wrote two bills for the construction of a new stadium. The deal asks Rhode Island and the city of Pawtucket to finance the purchase and development of the Apex site for a new stadium, a project with a price tag of $83 million, which does not include the bond interest and financing costs. The owners are lobbying the General Assembly to pass these bills. Six public hearings have been scheduled across the state for the public to comment at, instead of putting the proposal on the ballot so the voters could approve or reject it.
The first bill is S 0989, the resolution proposing the financing and allocation of state monies to the PawSox’s private corporate venture on the Apex site without voter approval.
The companion bill is S 0990, which is the proposed revision of a current Rhode Island General law relating to Redevelopment Agencies. This proposal is more far-reaching than it seems because it would apply to all future redevelopment projects, not just the Pawsox project.
RI Progressive Dems oppose S 0989 because it violates Article VI of the RI state constitution which explicitly forbids state issued bonds without voter approval. We oppose S 0990 because it eliminates ethical safeguards in state law meant to prevent cronyism and political corruption, and also violates Article VI of the RI state constitution. It is wrong for the General Assembly to pass either proposal as they both violate the RI state constitution. A proposal like this must be approved by voters on the ballot, not by elected officials and lobbyists.
Read our September statement on this issue:
"Many have commented on S 0989, the legislative proposal to allocate state funds (sans voter approval) to the PawSox’s private corporate venture on the Apex site. What hasn't received adequate public scrutiny is the companion bill S 0990, despite it being significantly more troubling in its implications than S 0989. RI Progressive Dems oppose S 0989 because it violates the RI state constitution which explicitly forbids state issued bonds without voter approval.
Relating to Pawtucket, S 0990 allows the city to designate its most valuable real estate as “redevelopment area” and finances (with taxpayer money) the speculative acquisition of the Apex for new construction. But the immediate purpose of S 0990 is to deregulate all taxpayer-backed redevelopment. First, it strikes existing language which limits redevelopment to “blighted and substandard” areas. Second, it strikes existing language that explicitly prohibits redevelopment funds from financing new construction. Lastly, it grants "redevelopment agencies" the power to hand over their resources to private parties, including gifting large sums of money to private individuals to buy land. The rewrite opens the door for private, well connected interests to seize private property (at taxpayer expense) through eminent domain wherever they like, and not merely in blighted and substandard areas. The bill discourages privately financed development and dumps the investment risk on the taxpayer, yet safeguards private profits.
What would stop communities like Newport and Bristol from designating their entire municipalities a “redevelopment area,” in which all construction and even land purchases are financed (but not voted on) by the taxpayers?
It is true that Rhode Island largely benefits from redevelopment with respect to rehabilitation and revitalization of existing buildings. Redevelopment funds are supposed to be used for redeveloping blighted neighborhoods, not subsidizing new construction on valuable real estate. It is hard to imagine how the PawSox owners and sponsoring legislators have the audacity to propose these bills at a time when public schools across the state are literally crumbling. We call on all our state senators to oppose both bills. As a state, we cannot allow our needed redevelopment resources to be reduced to yet another slush fund."