PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There has been a lot of attention on the race for governor and congress in Rhode Island, but voters statewide will still be asked three ballot questions concerning how they want their tax money to be spent.
Question 1 asks whether the state should borrow $100 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay Campus marine discipline educational and research needs.
The money would support the state’s blue economy, which consists of all resources, economic and natural, that touch the ocean, bay and coastal areas.
As a result of voters approving a 2018 bond question, construction is being done on a new pier at URI’s bay campus and now the university is asking for more money for phase two.
“We need especially clean laboratories for things that we do like looking at PFAs, or forever chemicals, in drinking water,” said Paula Bontempi, Dean of URI’s graduate school of oceanography.
If Question 1 is approved, it would tear down and replace the lab where PFA’s are being tested and be used for other needed renovations.
State lawmakers already voted in favor of the state borrowing this money in the form of a 20-year bond, but only if Rhode Island voters do as well.
According to the secretary of state’s office, it’s not just the $100 million that will be paid back with tax money, it’s also an additional $60 million in interest over the next 20 years.
Bontempi said it’s a smart return on investment.
“My biggest fear is that we wouldn’t be able to recruit or retain students and staff and faculty of the caliber that we’ve traditionally had,” she said. “With crumbling infrastructure, with offers coming from our competitors, I think it’s very difficult to do that.”
She pointed to the 2018 bond question when nearly 60% of voters approved a $70 million bond with $45 million paying for phase 1 of renovations. The money paid for a new pier and in return, Bontempi said the federal government paid for a new research vessel to be docked there.
“We do a lot of work related to exploring the ocean, training a new workforce in the sectors of the blue economy, and then also in the economics of the ocean,” Bontempi said. “Making sure that we have sustainable marine resources for future generations and to ensure that Rhode Island, the Ocean State, always has people employed in the ocean sectors.”
There is no known organized opposition to Question 1 but on social media, many voters who responded had concerns that their tax money would be going to higher education instead of other issues.
“The raise in tuition would just be prohibitive for compensating for something like a $100 million investment,” Bontempi said in response if tuition could instead cover the cost.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.