Guest's blog

OpEd: Southern New England states must honor commitment to cutting transportation pollution

Sen. DiMario (D-36), Rep. Cortvriend (D-72)By Sen. Alana DiMario and Rep. Terri Cortvriend

In the decade-plus since the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) was first developed under the Carcieri administration, there has been growing, bipartisan consensus that we must end our dependence on fossil fuels for the health of the people in our communities and our planet. No one disputes that reality.

And in that decade of work and planning and a worsening climate crisis, no one has come up with a better solution to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. TCI would cut greenhouse gas pollution from motor vehicles in the region by an estimated 26% and generate a total of more than $3 billion dollars over 10 years for the participating jurisdictions to invest in equitable, less-polluting transportation options and to help energize economic recovery.

It isn't a political landscape that dictates what we must do here; it is the physical reality of the world in which we are living, and an absolute necessity to take action to reduce those emissions. 

This week Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker cast doubt on the agreement their states signed with Rhode Island and Washington D.C. to take action on TCI, with Lamont saying high gasoline prices would probably mean his state legislature wouldn’t support it, and Baker following, saying he wouldn’t stay without other states. We are so disappointed.

That’s unacceptable and short-sighted. We should all be outraged by the idea of staying dependent on and beholden to giant fossil fuel corporations that take billions in taxpayer subsidies while raising gas prices and raking in record profits, all while polluting the earth and making our communities sicker. These are the costs we all bear every day, and it’s long past time the fossil fuel companies take some responsibility for the damage they have done. A model like TCI is still the best plan we have to significantly reduce emissions and help fund Rhode Island’s off ramp from fossil fuel dependence.

It should be noted that Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut together account for almost three-quarters of transportation emissions across New England. We need to do our part to address it.

Here in Rhode Island, our legislative leaders have — fortunately — expressed receptiveness for TCI. The Ocean State has both the ability and the responsibility to move forward on this concept regardless of whether our neighbors uphold their commitments.

In the upcoming legislative session, we will be working on a plan to center equity while reducing transportation emissions and creating a funding stream for modernizing transit. While a regional commitment would be more effective — and we look forward to reaching out to neighboring states to broker such an agreement — nothing could be more ineffective than longer inaction.

As elected officials it is our duty to keep the health and safety of our communities front and center in the decisions that we make. Leading the region in implementing the concepts of TCI does exactly that. For too many decades we have deferred acting on climate change, and there is no more time to waste. If we aren't here to fight for the bold and necessary changes to address the most pressing issues facing us and to reduce the burden on future generations, then why are we here?

Sen. Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) and Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) are the sponsors of the TEAM Community Act (2021-S 0872/2021-H 6310), which creates the statutory framework to implement TCI.

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02871, Localblogging, GA

OpEd: Why Rhode Island needs municipal broadband infrastructure

By Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

I could not have predicted the incredible sense of urgency for fiber broadband that has swept Rhode Island and the nation in just five short months!   

Millions of dollars in federal funds are available to states, but to access the money the feds are mandating states invest in deploying fiber broadband to unserved and underserved citizens. That’s one way to make sure Rhode Island, one of only two states in the country without any broadband governance or investment over the past eight years, starts deploying fiber to your home and business.  

US News.com reports that Rhode Island is ranked 37th for high-speed internet access; Rhode Island is ranked 49th for access to faster, more advanced Gigabit internet connection. Over the past decade, while Rhode Island sat on the sidelines as this technology soared, many states and municipalities invested in fiber broadband. We need to catch up, and fast. 

Seventeen states have already earmarked federal dollars for broadband including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Rhode Island could see $112 million in capital projects for fiber broadband.  The U.S Treasury is pretty clear that state capital projects must focus on 100 Mbps (download) and 20 mbps (upload).

Currently 45% of Rhode Islanders do not have 100/20 internet speeds, according to OOKLA Speed Test Intelligence Jan 2020-Aug 2021.  Go to www.speedtest.net to see your download/upload internet speeds. 

Local government should not be in the broadband business, just as local government is not in the airline business. Local government is in the infrastructure business; building sidewalks and bridges. Government is well-suited to build broadband infrastructure and lease it to internet service providers (ISPs), just as governments often build and own airports and lease the gates to airlines that compete for customers. Competition will bring better services and lower prices.

A municipality could build and own the conduit (pipe) and the fiber (glass) for the public good so businesses and residents have an “open access network.”  Any ISP that wants to do business pays rent to the municipality to offer their internet services.  Residents and businesses have a choice of internet providers and a municipality has a recurring revenue stream.   

Longmont, Colorado, is an example of a successful municipal broadband project. NextLight began building its award-winning fiber network in 2014 and now offers 90,000 residents access to 1,000 Mbps service with 60% take rate (residents subscribing to fiber broadband). There’s also Wilson, North Carolina; Cedar Falls, Iowa; and Everett, Mass.; to name a few. Municipalities would have to perform a cost benefit analysis.  If municipalities make bad decisions there will be failures, which is true of any infrastructure project.

This business model could be an economic opportunity for cable companies.  Municipalities have something that private and for-profit companies do not have and that’s “patient” capital.  A city or town has the financial ability to bond to build over 20 to 30 years, something private companies cannot do because Wall Street will only look at a 3- to 5-year rate of return.

The best measure of fiber broadband is more than “access,” it’s the societal impacts of what it delivers - online learning, telehealth and remote work conferences.  I will not stop advocating for faster, reliable, and affordable municipal fiber broadband because it’s not just the future; it’s what will determine where we live, work, learn, and do business.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, Jamestown/Middletown, is chairwoman of House Committee on Innovation, Internet, & Technology. She serves on House Finance and sponsored the RI Broadband bill that unanimously passed the House.  

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02871, Localblogging, GA, broadband

OpEd: The Last Mile: Getting Fiber Broadband to Your Home or Business

By Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

As the pandemic continues, it’s been an eye-opener on how important access to high-speed fiber optic is in our modern life. Decades ago, our nation created infrastructure programs for electricity, telephone and highways. Today, it’s fiber broadband — fast, cheap and the future. Rhode Island’s coaxial, copper cable system is old-school. 

Rhode Island will receive over $150 million in federal funding for broadband through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that has passed the U.S Senate and is now in the U.S. House.  The bill includes 5% of federal dollars to be used for planning, GIS mapping, and strategy implementation to set up a state broadband office. Currently, Rhode Island is one of only two states without any state agency working on fiber broadband.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a broadband strategic plan, create GIS (geographic information systems) mapping that shows which areas of the state are unserved and underserved, and deploy fiber to homes and businesses instead of the coaxial, copper cable we’ve been using for decades. 

Rhode Island has a lot of fiber between R.I. Department of Transportation fiber and OSHEAN’s 48 strands. However, there are no on/off ramps to connect municipalities, residents or businesses to this fiber highway. Broadband is as important in the 21st century as electricity was in the 20th century.  

In order to access the federal funding, Rhode Island will need to develop a plan for fiber broadband deployment to homes and businesses and a plan to fix digital inequities in underserved and unserved neighborhoods.  

The new RI Broadband office, with 2 or 3 dedicated employees should begin by setting up municipal broadband and funding opportunities.

Since this is federal funding, the state will be required to use a competitive bidding process for connecting homes and businesses to broadband. Many states and municipalities already have “open access” fiber networks where several internet service providers compete to provide service, which means you have a choice. When did competition become a bad thing in Rhode Island?  

COVID has taught us how important high-speed internet access is. Incumbent cable providers sell download speeds of 175 or 200 Mbps. That’s fine if you’re only downloading a movie, but it’s upload speeds that matter. The internet is now interactive. Upload speeds of 10 or 20 Mbps are insufficient. Coaxial cable cannot provide affordable, symmetrical speeds and that’s why fiber broadband is the future, now.

Think about your own internet usage in your home — Zoom meetings, telehealth, uploading homework or the Peloton bike; that’s a lot of bandwidth. You can’t run a home on 125/10, so how do you run a business? For many people, their small business is in the home.

Block Island is building the first municipal fiber network in our state. Last summer, voters overwhelmingly approved an $8 million 20-year bond for broadband so island residents and businesses will have fast, reliable, affordable broadband. A 100/100 Mbps fiber broadband package there is expected to cost $72 a month. It’s far better than coaxial cable, which is twice the cost and is 150/20 Mbps.

 Go to www.speedtest.net and see your download and upload speeds and then check your cable bill to see what you’re actually paying for. 

Rhode Island cannot compete if the states around us are offering fast, reliable, affordable fiber broadband. I believe in the power of technology just as I believe in the future of Rhode Island. The future is now.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74- Jamestown/Middletown) is chairwoman of the House Innovation, Internet and Technology Committee.

Tags: 
02871, GA, broadband

LTE— Why Broadband Matters to You and Your Family

by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero

COVID-19 has been the most convincing argument for Rhode Island to invest in high-speed internet, or dedicated broadband. Whether for remote working from home, distance learning or telehealth, broadband access must be reliable, fast and affordable. You wouldn’t buy a house or relocate your business without access to water or electricity. High-speed internet in a 21st economy is a necessary utility (although Rhode Island state law preempts any regulation of internet or telecoms- a story for later).

Rhode Island citizens and small businesses need high-speed, low-cost and reliable broadband service and not coaxial cable that’s shared with several hundred other homes or businesses, causing buffering and spotty coverage. Fiber-optic broadband is amazingly fast because it’s laser and doesn’t use electrical signals; so you don’t lose internet connectivity during an electrical outage.

Ten years ago, Rhode Island received $20 million in federal dollars and the state added $10 million to build out an amazing 48 strands of fiber-optic, high-speed broadband - 8,000 miles of broadband fiber running throughout this little state. Yet, only 10 strands of fiber-optic are being used for our hospitals, colleges, universities, libraries, and schools. We have a technology highway without any on/off ramps for residents, businesses, and municipalities to access.

Internet providers say, “RI has access to more broadband than any other state in the country; 98% of homes have fiber-optic broadband running outside their front door.” Yes, we do; it’s the middle mile of 48 strand of fiber. If only we could access it without paying exorbitant rates.

Lots and lots of federal funds will be flowing into every state across America for broadband infrastructure. But the federal dollars will only go to states that have a dedicated broadband coordinator or state entity that that can access, administer, and oversee the federal broadband funds.

As of this writing, Rhode Island still does not have a broadband coordinator, which means it is losing out on federal broadband dollars and has been for the past seven years. That’s why I’ve sponsored H5138, a broadband bill that needs to pass this legislative session to get our state off the bench into the technology broadband game. Rhode Island is one of only two states in the country without a broadband coordinator (Mississippi is the other).

A dedicated broadband coordinator in Commerce RI tells municipalities and the private sector that Rhode Island is serious about broadband. This broadband coordinator in my bill H5148 could access and administer federal dollars to help community-led projects like the one we’re working on for Aquidneck Island. It’s a pilot program that could be a municipal model for other local governments, business and nonprofits.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts are making a push to get people to live in those states and work remotely because they have invested in dedicated fiber-optic broadband. Here in RI, we’re losing businesses in Newport County because of the low internet speeds and high-costs of coaxial cable internet.

Community-led broadband projects (MA, NH, Utah, Hawaii, etc) are backed by revenue bonds, which are paid off by subscribers’ fees and dues- taxpayers pay nothing. A group of municipalities in Utah formed a nonprofit government entity (UTOPIA) that leases the broadband to ISPs (Cox, Verizon, Comcast, Opencape, etc) that can offer services to end users. Benefits include a GIG of service (not megabits!), creates competition from several different ISPs on the UTOPIA network making pricing affordable, and Utopia is developing in rural areas where many big profit-driven telecoms can forget about.

It’s time Rhode Island creates the on/off ramps to access the 8,000 miles of fiber-optic that’s running throughout this state. Market competition will do more for the economy than any government regulation could ever do!

###

Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-73, Jamestown/Middletown) is chair of the House Committee on Innovation, Internet, Technology and she serves on House Finance Committee.

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Localblogging, 02871, GA, broadband

LTE: Urgent action needed to serve adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities

By Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown)

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hardest the areas and populations that were already struggling, since they had the fewest resources for adaptation and safety. We’ve seen the outsized effects on the poor and on minorities. Another group that it has been disproportionately hurt is adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Here in Rhode Island, adults with I/DD have not been provided adequate resources for many years. In recent days, a federal judge issued an order requiring the state to quickly craft a plan to address 16 barriers that are preventing decent services, after years of failure to meet the terms of a previous consent decree to improve. The pandemic has made a bad situation far worse, shutting down most day programs and employment opportunities, leaving this very vulnerable population without critical supports. Residents and underpaid staff at group homes have been at risk for illness, and those living at home face isolation and a reduction or loss of in-home support services. Agencies that serve them, which have mostly operated on the financial brink for years, are in danger of going under permanently.

The challenges of the pandemic and recovery from it threaten the already sub-par progress the state has made toward fixing this system. A Senate task force led by my colleague and fellow Aquidneck Islander, Sen. Louis DiPalma, has been shedding light on the obstacles, which include a fee-for-service structure that discourages innovation and integration.

Rhode Island must do better for its residents with I/DD. Every individual served is a deserving person whose needs include meaningful activities that support their personal goals and a valued role in their communities. 

I urge my colleagues in the House to get on board with the Senate, where Sen. DiPalma has long worked to call attention to the need for better funding and a more workable system of supports for adults with I/DD. We need to join him in fully recognizing and supporting the importance of the work that must be done to provide enriching and effective services to Rhode Islanders with I/DD. We may be deeply ashamed of our state’s history – from the not so distant past – of “dumping” people with I/DD at the notorious Ladd School, but have we really come very far if we are not providing them with the means they need to have a fulfilling life in the community?

Chief Judge John J. McConnell  Jr. of the U.S. District Court has issued an order requiring drastic changes. We must break out of the old way of funding services based on congregate care. Undoubtedly, it will initially take additional support to make the changes in the short term. But it may save money in the long term, enabling more people to leave congregate care settings and lead meaningful, productive lives within their community.&nbsp

I look forward to ensuring that this need is given the attention it deserves in the House.

Rep. Terri Cortvriend is a Democrat who represents District 72 in Portsmouth and Middletown.

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02871, Localblogging, GA

LTE: Action needed to avoid an eviction crisis

By Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Jason Knight

Rep. Knight, Sen. EuerRhode Island is on the precipice of a cataclysmic housing disaster stemming from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But swift, decisive action would avert this crisis.

On Monday, the courts will open and landlords may begin filing for evictions, although in some situations renters may have protections until July. With over 230,000 new unemployment claims since March 9, and a record 17-percent unemployment rate, vast numbers of Rhode Islanders are likely on the verge of losing their housing. When Virginia reopened its courts two weeks ago, it had over 800 eviction proceedings already scheduled. Rhode Island, with the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, is likely to experience a similar avalanche.

Renters are more likely than homeowners to live paycheck to paycheck, at risk of financial ruin if their income stops. While the moratorium has protected them up to now, if they’ve been unable to pay rent for several months, it’s unlikely they can pay those months of back rent to avoid eviction.

Rhode Island can use a portion of its $1.25 billion federal COVID-19 response funding for emergency rent assistance. Quickly establishing an Eviction Diversion Court – really, just a special District Court calendar to handle evictions – would create a means to provide tenants legal counsel, require mediation and provide the financial assistance necessary to prevent eviction.

We appreciate the courts’ and the administration’s efforts in this arena so far, and urge them to act swiftly to save tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders from homelessness.

Sen. Dawn Euer (D-13) represents Newport and Jamestown, and Rep. Jason Knight (D-67) represents Barrington and Warren

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02871, Localblogging, LTE, GA

LTE: Rhode Island needs real environmental action in 2020

Reps Speakman, Donovan, Cassar, Cortvriend, Carson


By Rep. June S. Speakman, Rep. Susan R. Donovan, Rep. Liana Cassar, Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Rep. Lauren Carson

In virtually all the predictions of what will be hot in the 2020 General Assembly session, there has been little mention of environmental policy. It is imperative that we make progress in 2020 on several fronts including plastics pollution, sea level rise, renewable energy, sustaining a clean water supply and waste management.

The foundation of Rhode Island’s economy —tourism, small business, boating, fisheries — depends on its policymakers looking beyond the current budget cycle and providing a reliable funding stream for these efforts. We also have the opportunity to recognize the innovation, growth and job creation that will come to our state when we embrace these priorities.

Our coastlines are being threatened by sea level rise. The Coastal Resources Management Council provides Rhode Island with maps predicting a changed shoreline in every coastal community.  We must improve the capacity of local communities to respond to these changes by offering education, technical assistance and funding to support resilience and adaption. There is no need to spend any more time questioning the probability of sea level rise. It’s happening.

Off the coast of Rhode Island is a sustainable resource that is becoming a driver of economic growth: wind power. Policymakers must seize the opportunity to ensure that this green industry has the support it needs to grow in a way that respects the needs of those who use the waters for fishing and boating.  Governor Raimondo’s mention of this in her State of the State address is a good sign, as is her commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

Rhode Island’s water supply needs long-term planning and policymakers’ attention. From the reservoirs close to the beach in Newport County, to the cross-bay pipeline that serves the East Bay, to the PFAS-polluted wells in Burrillville, our drinking water faces continued risk. The General Assembly must join with the governor to study these risks and provide stable, long-term funding to address them.

As we all know, Rhode Island faces a grave waste-management problem. The Central Landfill is nearing capacity; the town of Johnston cannot be expected to bear the burden of significant expansion. There is an easy mid-term solution here: produce less waste.  At relatively low cost, the state can lead the nation in cutting our waste significantly by limiting the distribution of single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. We can also establish an aggressive statewide composting program to divert food waste and yard waste from the landfill to our renewed small-farming sector and our own home gardens.

All these issues require our policymakers’ immediate attention, stable funding and focused planning. If we are to protect our precious resources and secure a sustainable, healthy future for our beautiful state, the time to act is now.

Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth), Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) all represent coastal communities and share deep concern for the environment.

 

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02871, Localblogging, environment, GA

[LTE] Ocean State must face reality of rising shores

Ocean State must face reality of rising shores
By Rep. Lauren H. Carson and Rep. Terri Cortvriend 

You may have heard about the Charlestown man who is suing the town of South Kingstown and one of its police officers over his arrest in June on a trespassing charge while he was collecting seaweed along a beach.

The charge was dismissed, but the act itself was, in part, intended to call attention to unresolved questions about shoreline access here in Rhode Island, a right enshrined in our state constitution. A 1982 Supreme Court ruling attempted to clarify the issue by saying the public’s right ends at the mean high-tide line, but since that line is a calculation of averages over an 18.6 year cycle, there’s no way for a beachgoer to identify it.

Further complicating matters is that the line will continually move inland as sea level rises, most of the time gradually, but at times heaving large chunks off dunes and other coastal features. With sea rise, property owners and members of the public whose shoreline access is constitutionally guaranteed will continue losing ground.

After Hurricane Sandy destroyed properties along the coasts of New York and New Jersey, there was an uptick in discussion about whether some particularly at-risk coastal properties should even be rebuilt. Many were, in fact, abandoned there, because increasingly violent weather events and rising seas have rendered them too much of a risk for repeated loss.

As much as we value the right of landowners, there may well be properties in our state, too, that are similarly unjustifiable risks for flooding, destruction and even loss of life.

As the Ocean State, we should be much more proactive when it comes to resiliency along our shores. We should be exploring the actual risk to each coastal community and each property using up-to-date technology that models expected risks. We must continue to train our municipal planning and zoning boards on the risks of sea rise so they have the tools they need to make sound decisions that do not jeopardize property investments and keep the shoreline open to the pubic under their constitutional rights. 

There’s little doubt that in general, homeowners are less than ideally prepared for flood risks, particularly the increasing risks associated with rising seas in the coming decades. Only about 15,000 Rhode Island properties in the flood zones carry flood insurance, and only those with mortgages are actually required to have it. Those with enough cash to purchase a beach home without a mortgage aren’t. While they may have the means to risk property destruction in the event of a major disaster, are they putting public assets and people’s lives at risk?

The risk isn’t limited to private property. Doubtlessly, many state and municipal assets are also located in areas that are already prone to flooding, or whose risk is increasing. Stewards of public resources have a responsibility to understand and defend those assets from potential damage, and must face the reality that the most prudent step might be to move them elsewhere.

Our state needs a more robust action plan for protecting public and private properties from the ever-increasing risk of coastal flooding, and that plan must include an accounting of where the high-tide line is, and how it is projected to move. 

The creation of this plan should include an audit of properties to determine what the real risks are, and it should also bring in real estate professionals, insurers and lenders, because they help determine the price of ownership of such properties, and should be sure that those prices accurately reflect the real cost of ownership, including potential destruction.

The Ocean State must face the fact that the more of our state is, indeed, becoming part of the ocean with each passing year. Leaders and property owners must take much more concrete steps to predict the encroachment and protect our assets from it.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson is a Democrat who represents District 75 in Newport. Rep. Terri Cortvriend is a Democrat who represents District 72 in Portsmouth and Middletown.

Tags: 
LTE, climate change

LTE: Address tax issues with third-party rental platforms

carson.jpgBy Rep. Lauren H. Carson
 
Technology development keeps changing everyday life in ways that were unforeseeable only a few years ago. A decade ago, probably few people would have believed that our economy would soon be changed by apps that would let you hail a cab online, or websites that would crowdsource funding for entrepreneurs or charitable causes. Or that in 2018, a significant portion of travelers would sleep in a stranger’s home instead of a hotel.
 
Government at every level has struggled to keep up with the dizzying pace of this development, and the result is that policy has not caught up to technology. Short-term rentals coordinated through third-party hosting platforms is one such wild frontier where an entire economy has sprung up, unregulated, unchecked and very questionably taxed.
 
In my district in Newport, where hospitality is the driver of the economy, the effects of this development are particularly evident. Our tax and health and safety codes were developed with the expectation that residential properties housed residents, not travelers. This new hybrid use — and the use of third-party hosting platforms that complicate the identification of the properties being used — have left Newport, other municipalities and the state at a loss to determine how to ensure that hosts are complying with the measures that are intended to keep guests safe and in compliance with the collection of hotel and sales taxes.
 
An attempt was made in 2015 to collect the hotel tax from the third-party hosting platforms, but the result was the delegation of tax collection to the hosting platform, which submits only one double-sided form once a month with only a grand total of the taxes it says its users owe the state and the fraction that should go to each community. We’re just accepting the money and their word.
 
The tax problems are just the tip of the iceberg. This use may well also be putting a squeeze on our housing stock, as investors have begun buying properties solely to rent out the rooms in this manner.
 
Proponents argue that the model provides homeowners, particularly woman and seniors, with income that helps them afford their homes. But what can it do to protect these vulnerable populations from those who spend the night in their homes? Background checks and analytics cannot detect first-time offenders who recognize this opportunity.
 
I have submitted legislation that will help ensure compliance with our tax laws and building codes. My bill requires third-party hosting platforms to use best practices to ensure the properties they list are complying with all applicable local, state and federal laws regarding their rental and use, and ensure that they are complying with any local registration requirement. Additionally, the bill requires them to provide each property owner with a monthly accounting of the taxes collected for rental on that property. It would be the property owner’s responsibility to remit that accounting to the state along with any taxes they have collected themselves for rentals outside the platform.
 
The use of third-party hosting platforms will only continue to grow, and Rhode Island must adapt. We cannot continue to allow a very significant portion of our hotel taxes to be collected and submitted anonymously, without verification. I urge swift passage of my legislation to rectify this situation.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson, a Democrat, represents District 75 in Newport.

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02871, Localblogging, LTE

Rep. Ruggiero OpEd: Play Ball! But Where?

By Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-74)

ruggiero_oped.jpgI love it when my constituents provide input on issues. The PawSox stadium has brought many emails and calls from both sides of the bench. Many have argued about the economic importance of the PawSox to our state. I’ve sat through many, many hours of testimony in the House Finance Committee and asked many questions. Now that the bill has been sent to the House, my committee will have more hearings, during which I’m confident we can continue to improve the proposal and make it a better deal for taxpayers.

My first question was “Can Pawtucket afford this?” If they default, the taxpayers of the state are the back stop. Their fiscal analysis shows they can support the $18 million in bonds to pay back. Also, part of the deal includes PawSox developing 50,000 square feet for retail in Pawtucket, so the city will see tax incremental funding as well.

I would like to see the PawSox backstop the city of Pawtucket in the event that they default. The Pawsox could put $18 million in escrow, as security, in the event that the city of Pawtucket defaults on its notes. Each year that the city of Pawtucket meets its financial obligations (without taxpayer help), that portion of the security deposit is returned. Make sense? The owners are multimillionaires, and they can afford to have more skin in the game. Besides, staying in Pawtucket benefits them, because it would cost them significantly, probably millions, to rebrand themselves in New England as the WorSox (home team to Worcester, Mass.)

I don't know if people realize that the $45 million that the PawSox are putting in for this deal (including buying the land) is 54 percent -- the most of any Triple A deal in the country; most Triple A teams have put in 25-30 percent of the public/private partnership.

Then I asked, “Would the debt service be too much for the state?” Rhode Island currently gets about $2.1 million in revenues from McCoy today (with 400,000 attendees in 2016, and that’s the lowest since 1992!) The state’s debt service under the new deal is $1.6 million a year-- well below the annual income that the state already yields.

This is NOT 38 Studios. Curt Schilling was an amateur businessman with an unreleased video game who was over his skis compared with a Triple A team with over 40 years of history in the state. It is public/private money for a public use with public benefits. And to ensure 38 Studios never happened again, the legislature passed a statute limiting any state funds to no more than $25 million. Someone once said, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.”

Finally, looking to the future, I wondered if the state were to not authorize this public/private partnership with PawSox and the city of Pawtucket, would Pawtucket suffer extensive blight and an economic downturn in 4 or 5 years? Pawtucket has already lost Memorial Hospital and the Gamm Theatre, and Hasbro is considering a move. On the other side, there are some pretty cool local breweries in Pawtucket attracting a young, professional clientele.

When you come into Rhode Island from Boston, the gateway to our state is Pawtucket and that old Apex building! Would Rhode Islanders regret and become resentful if the PawSox became the WorSox? Has Brooklyn ever gotten over losing the Dodgers?

The House Finance Committee will work to make the Senate bill a better bill for Rhode Island taxpayers. I suspect there will be more change-ups in this saga, but the first pitch will be thrown in 2020. The question is where?

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, chairwoman of House Committee on Small Business, serves on House Finance and represents Jamestown and Middletown in District 74. She can be reached at rep-ruggiero@rilegislature.gov or 423-0444.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, GA

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