R.I. legislators, for the sake of all Rhode Islanders, we can (and should) invest in our environment

Op-ed: R.I. legislators, for the sake of all Rhode Islanders, we can (and should) invest in our environment

by Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone

The Warwick Beacon and the Cranston Herald published this op-ed on Thursday, October 29, 2020. 

Election season will not be over in Rhode Island on November 3. After the
presidential election, the R.I. General Assembly is expected to reconvene
to address major, unfinished state business: the adoption of the 2021
budget and the scheduling of a special election to put a set of ballot
questions before voters. Both the budget and the questions have been
proposed by Governor Raimondo and they include the $69 million “Beaches,
Clean Water and Green Economy Bond.”

The bond is a visionary proposal that would allow for new construction and
upgrades to safe drinking water facilities and wastewater treatment plants
($15 million); for new and re-built community parks and recreational
facilities throughout the state ($4 million); and for long-overdue
improvements to state beaches, parks and campgrounds ($40 million). The
economic impact of investing in our beaches, parks and campgrounds alone is
significant. “The Economic Impact of Rhode Island’s State Parks,” a
University of Rhode Island study, indicated that in 2016, state-owned
beaches, parks and campgrounds hosted an impressive 9.4 million visits,
generated $311.9 million in consumer spending and yielded $38.8 million in
tax revenue, while supporting 3,709 jobs for Rhode Islanders.

The bond would further support the protection of the farmlands and forested
lands that are essential for Rhode Island’s food economy and climate
strategy ($3 million), and the Municipal Resilience Program, which provides
grants the cities and towns that are grappling with the impacts of climate
change ($7 million).

Some may say that Rhode Island cannot afford to borrow during these tough
times. To the contrary: now is the time to make long-term investments
that protect our water, air, forests, farmland and communities. In written
testimony to the House Finance Committee on July 29, General Treasurer Seth
Magaziner stated that Rhode Island *can* afford to borrow for these
projects, noting, “With interest rates near historic lows, this is a good
time for Rhode Island to use bond financing to spur economic recovery.”

What’s more, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank reminds us that voter
approval of $15 million for clean water projects will generate another $60
million in federal dollars—funds that should not be left on the table.
This means that the proposed “Beaches, Clean Water and Green Economy Bond,” gives
the General Assembly a substantial opportunity to not only address
Narragansett Bay’s short- and long-term needs, and help rebuild our
economy, but to also leverage millions of dollars in federal support for
our recovery.

As legislators return to Smith Hill, we hope they remember how many
residents depend on a clean and healthy Narragansett Bay for their
livelihood and quality of life. For over four decades, Rhode Islanders have
overwhelmingly voted in favor of investments in our environment, notably
Narragansett Bay. We urge our representatives to approve the Governor’s
proposal and allow Rhode Islanders the opportunity to, once again, voice
their support and cast their vote for the “Beaches, Clean Water and Green
Economy Bond.”