I guess it is time to repeat what I said only half-jokingly before: If you have a choice on the local level to pick between a Democrat and a Republican, all things being equal, I urge you to fill in the Republican arrow. We need to shake up the political hierarchy in this state. If you haven't figured it out by now, one-party rule doesn't work, folks. Which leads me to the Referendum questions (link is to the official RI Referendum Handbook, in .pdf format).
To start, Question 1: Separation of Powers, and Question 2: Constitutional Convention, are no brainers. Vote YES on both and let's start the real political reform in the Ocean State.
Now for the spending bills. I will be voting for some, with my nose plugged, but with the view that they are downpayments for economic development and state savings later. That is my philosophy as I look at these questions.
Question 3: Transportation - YES, with massive reservations, but if we don't do it now, we'll supposedly be without ANY upgrade for 2 years. Plus there is the fact that the Federal Government will provide extensive matching funds. These issues simply stink, but they need to be done.
Question 4: Vocational Education Investment - YES. I'm a strong believer in skills and trades as extremely viable economic alternatives, especially for young people. A person that learns how to program CNC machines or electro-hydraulic system technologies in 2 years is much more prepared to join the work force than someone who gets the English degree in 5 years. Not to denigrate English or History majors, remember, I am one of the latter, but students with no direction are much better served going into the trades than wasting time and money on a 5 year college plan.
Question 5: Dorms at URI and RIC - NO. Sorry, not this year. I just think that we'll have to let the URI students continue to carry the burden on the renovations. Given that, this is simply not the time for RIC to come asking the state for a new housing facility. Sorry guys.
Question 6: Renovation of the Cranston Street Armory - YES, with reservations. The logic is sound: renovate an existing building to use for government office space and reduce the amount of rent the state pays for state offices. The fact that Governor Carcieri supports the plan gives me a little hope. Just enough hope to override my ingrained reluctance to support and spending by the Democrats on Federal Hill. Barely Enough.
Question 7: Water Supply - NO. Just seems like this can wait. In a record year for proposed referendum spending, it seems like this can wait.
Question 8: Preserving Open Spaces - YES. One of these has never failed in Rhode Island and there will also be Federal matching funds. I live near Conimicut Point in Warwick. This spring my family took a walk along the beach and the kids wanted to play in the water. The "white floaties" prevented that. I'm generally not a big "green" guy, but the "quality of life" issue is an important one. My real problem with this is its "omnibus" nature. I wish some of it, like some of the money targeted for the sometimes over-zealous Save the Bay crowd, could be parsed out.
Question 9: URI Undersea Center - NO. Robert Ballard's baby. Visions of Rhode Island as the oceanic research center of the United States (as Houston has NASA), seems far-fetched as well as a bad analogy. At a time when we are moving toward commercial space flight, couldn't the argument be made that commercial interests could just as easily be persuaded to "invest" in this venture? Perhaps in other years I'd support this concept, but not when so much money is already being spent.
Question 10: URI Athletic Facility Rehab - NO. Another case of bad timing. Too much money being spent this year. And didn't they just get done the Ryan Center? Face it guys, URI is not going to be a major football power any time soon.
Queston 11: Historic Preservation - YES. A purely self-interested vote, I admit. Of all the questions, it's the smallest (only $3 million) and will provide money for historic preservation across the state, all of which will contribute to "quality of life."
Question 12: Pastore Center Renovation - YES, another reluctant affirmative. See my explanation for Question 6, above.
Question 13 - URI Biotech Center - YES. I believe something tangible can be generated by trying to set URI up as a Biotech education leader. AMGEN has already pledged support. In some sense, this is similar to the URI Undersea Center, which I was against. I guess, to me, it seems that this is more likely to generate more immediate economic benefits than the Undersea Center.
Question 14 - Quonset Point Development - YES. This IS NOT about a container port, it's about modernizing and developing the site for current and future economic development. Full Disclosure: My employer currently has a facility here. Through this modernization, hopefully more businesses will be attracted.
There you have it. I think every referendum question but the Historical Preservation will pass. Rhode Islanders love to vote for the big stuff and then show "fiscal restraint" by axing the smallest one. It happens every time.
UPDATE: Justin Katz has kindly mentioned my brief "voter guide" and has made a couple worthy points. First, he notes that Chuck Barton is hardly a "Conservative" with his pro-Choice and wishy-washy Gay Marriage stances. I am aware of this, and should have pointed it out, as well as the fact that Langevin is pro-life, as am I. Nonetheless, I guess I am a victim of rank partisanship on this one. Nearly every other position that Langevin stands for is opposite of mine. I've never been a single-issue voter. Though important, I can't be one now. In the past, I have voted for someone with whom I was in disagreement with over the abortion issue: Lincoln Chafee. I have since discovered there is much more that I disagree with him over. I won't be voting for the Senator from Northern Virginia, er, Rhode Island again. (Sorry for that gratuitous swipe. Well, not really).
Second, he notes that he tends to vote NO on every spending proposal because he basically wants to starve the beast that is our State Government. This is a point to which I'm VERY sympathetic. However, I also realize that these are bonds, not direct taxes, that we are being asked to approve. I understand the debt service and the budget deficits, etc., but when good ideas are proposed that include paying now for a promising future of economic development, I think it is worth taking the chance. Now, I completely understand if people have different priorities, but in general, I would ask everyone to ask themselves the same questions that the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council's policy director Peter Marino recommended that taxpayers should consider:
- Which projects will result in investments that strengthen the state's economy?
- What opportunities might be lost if the project doesn't go forward.
- What impact will the new projects have on the future cost of running state government.
Again, our priorities may be different, but we should acknowledge that, despite our distaste for the rampant government spending in the Ocean State, some of it is beneficial. These referendum questions offer us the rare opportunity to keep the babies while throwing out the bathwater.