(The Center Square) – Rhode Island will borrow $400 million to help refurbish a state-run university campus, replenish a school building, and fund environmental projects after voters on Tuesday approved three ballot questions authorizing the spending.
Question 1, which was approved by 58% of the vote, calls for issuing $100 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay Campus’ education and research needs.
The University of Rhode Island, which led the Vote Yes on 1 campaign, said its passage will create jobs, expand research and ensure the university and state remain leaders of the “blue” economy.
“Together, we said yes to creating jobs; yes to research and science that protects the environment; and yes to building a flourishing hub of ideas, partnerships, and programs that will create a stronger economy for all of us,” University of Rhode Island Marc Parlange said in a statement.
The university plans to use the money to replace a half-century old laboratory with a new 100,000 square-foot “Ocean Frontiers Building” with climate-controlled systems.
Question 2, which was approved by 72% of voters, will authorize the state to borrow $250 million for the construction and renovation of state public school buildings.
Voters also approved Question 3, which calls for issuing $50 million in bonds for environmental and recreational projects, including Narragansett Bay and watershed restoration projects, and forest restoration projects. The measure passed with 67% of the vote, according to preliminary election results.
A sizable chunk of the funding, or about $16 million, will be diverted to cities and towns to fund projects to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The Roger Williams Park Zoo is set to receive $12 million for a “carbon neutral” education center. Another $4 million will be devoted to cleaning up contaminated brownfield sites in the state.
The borrowing plan was endorsed by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Clean Water Action, Climate Jobs Rhode Island, and Rhode Island Land Trust Council.
“Green bonds support the best of Rhode Island: clean blue waters, green spaces and vibrant communities,” the environmental group Save the Bay posted on social media after Tuesday’s results. “We look forward to seeing the approved investment in projects supporting climate resilience, water quality and more.”
Under a state law, Rhode Island must ask voters to issue general obligation bonds exceeding $50,000, except in the case of war or insurrection.
Since 2008, the state’s voters have approved 30 bond measures totaling more than $2 billion in principal value, including the $400 million authorized in Tuesday’s election, according to state data.
Governor Daniel McKee, a Democrat who won another term in Tuesday’s election, signed legislation in June certifying the three bond measures for the ballot.