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Rhode Island puts bond measures to March vote

Rhode Island’s $12.8 billion budget bill, which Gov. Gina Raimondo signed on Monday, includes $400 million in bond measures in seven ballot questions that voters will decide in a March 2 special election.

The pared-down, six-months-late spending plan for fiscal 2021 restores funding to cities and towns, uses federal COVID-19 relief funds from the CARES Act and raises no taxes or fees. The budget delay forced the postponement of the bond referenda from November.

"This balanced budget will lay the foundation we need to create a more resilient, inclusive and equitable Rhode Island," Raimondo said.

It is unclear for now how much Rhode Island stands to receive under the $900 billion federal coronavirus relief bill.

Gov. Gina Raimondo signs fiscal 2021 budget bill on Monday.

Office of the Governor, Rhode Island

“With so many financial unknowns and variables still to be locked down, I’m pleased that this budget will fully fund a top Senate priority, the restoration of aid to cities and towns,” said Sen. William J. Conley Jr., D-East Providence, who chairs the Senate finance committee.

Restoration of those cuts — and bridging a $275 million budget gap, estimated at $900 million in June — was possible largely through federal relief funding, improving revenue collections and lower-than-expected healthcare caseload costs.

The bill fully funds state aid to education by formula.

Municipal bond analyst Joseph Krist said budget makers at all levels must make assumptions on economies and revenues. “The level of stimulus provided by Congress will be the biggest source of uncertainty,” he said.

Raimondo on Monday ended the state’s three-week pause, intended to curb a recent spike in coronavirus cases. The easing of restrictions would be gradual, the governor told reporters. Gyms and bowling alleys can reopen with limited capacity and restaurants can return to 50% capacity while bar areas will remain closed.

Still, the state has reported positivity rates of 5% on many recent days.

Bond questions include:

Question 1: $107.3 million for higher education, including $57.3 million for a fine arts center at the University of Rhode Island; $38 million for the Clarke Science Building at Rhode Island College and $12 million to renovate the Community College of Rhode Island’s campuses.

Question 2: $74 million for environment and recreational projects, $10 million more than Raimondo’s original proposal. This includes $4 million for local recreation; $3 million for natural and working lands; $15 million for clean and drinking water; $7 million for municipal resiliency; $33 million for state beaches, parks and campgrounds; $4 million for a proposed park on the former Interstate-195 land in Providence; $6 million for Providence River dredging, included in the 2018 green bond, but funding proved insufficient; and $2 million for the Woonasquatucket Greenway.

Question 3: $65 million for affordable housing, an increase of $40 million from the original proposal, included in the amendment Raimondo offered in July.

Question 4: $71.7 million for transportation initiatives.

Question 5: $15 million for early childhood care and the educational capital fund.

Question 6: $7 million for arts and cultural infrastructure, including $6 million for the cultural arts and economy grant program, and $1 million for the state preservation grants program.

Question 7: $60 million for commerce infrastructure, including $20 million for the Port of Davisville at Quonset and $40 million for industrial site development.