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2015 Legislative Wrap Up

State HouseFollowing the November 2014 statewide referenda in which Rhode Island voters approved the most sweeping package of investments in smart growth and community revitalization since Grow Smart’s founding, the 2015 General Assembly continued the momentum.  By enacting a number of promising new initiatives – including Governor Raimondo’s bold economic comeback agenda – and staving off radical attempts to undermine our state’s well-regarded community planning system, the General Assembly set the table for continued economic growth by playing more effectively to Rhode Island’s many strengths.

We find that a number of Governor Raimondo’s enacted economic proposals are aligned with recommendations included in our 2014 Briefing Book for Candidates and Voters.


Smart Economic Development

Governor’s Economic Comeback Agenda Budget Article 19 Sub A| Passed
smart growth1_SERVER_1

Lawmakers approved Governor Raimondo’s nearly $100 million proposal for an aggressive set of economic development tools, including several smart growth-oriented strategies aimed at strengthening Rhode Island’s urban, town and village centers and the state’s overall economy, including:

 

  1. Rebuild RI Real Estate Tax Credit  (Re)development incentive program ($60M over 5 years) partly to be used for attracting private investment to transit-oriented development and redevelopment in our urban & town centers and transit corridors.
  2. Rhode Island Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Innovative financing program that prioritizes development in smart growth locations by allowing a portion of newly generated state sales and income taxes generated by a project to help support its development over a defined period of time.
  3. Tax Stabilization Incentive providing reimbursement to municipalities of up to 10% when entering into qualified property tax stabilization agreements (TSA’s) for projects that would largely meet what we would consider to be efficient, smart growth criteria that serve the public interest.
  4. I-195 Redevelopment Fund $25M incentive fund designed to spur and attract anchor employers and institutions to the planned innovation hub near Downtown Providence on the former highway land.
  5. Main Street Rhode Island Streetscape Improvement Fund A good first effort ($1M) for awarding loans, matching grants and other forms of financing to municipalities to enhance the attractiveness of our urban and town centers.
  6. RI New Qualified Jobs Incentive Program Provides tax credits to eligible businesses, including incentives for new job creation in transit-oriented development areas.

Our testimony in support of the Governor’s package of economic development tools

Listen to a RI NPR interview of Grow Smart’s Scott Wolf about the Rebuild RI Tax Credit

 

State Historic Tax Credit Program | Budget Article 19 Sub A | Passed 

engineerAlthough Governor Raimondo’s initial economic development package contained no provision to extend the Historic Tax Credit program, the amended version of the package just signed into law authorizes outlays to smaller historic rehab projects as part of the new Rebuild RI Tax Credit initiative. These outlays are capped at 15% of the annual amount appropriated in any fiscal year for the Rebuild RI initiative. The “carve out” for smaller historic rehabilitation projects came in response to intense advocacy by Grow Smart RI, Preserve RI & others with the Raimondo Administration and General Assembly Finance Committees on behalf of continuing significant funding for the oversubscribed Historic Tax Credit program.

We consider this result a partial victory because it represents more than was proposed by the Governor originally but much less of a commitment to the Historic Tax Credit program than we championed through our support of legislation (H-5851) sponsored by Representative Regunberg of Providence. We will continue to advocate for a more substantial, multi-year commitment to the Historic Tax Credit program and bolster our arguments with additional case studies of the revitalization and economic development impact of a variety of recent Historic Tax Credit projects. We will also publicize to developers and commercial property owners all the financial opportunities for historic rehab projects within the Rebuild RI Tax Credit Initiative.

Our testimony in support H-5851

 

Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank | Budget Article 14 Sub A | Passed

brownfieldA joint initiative of Governor Raimondo and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, the new Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank is an expansion of the successful RI Clean Water Finance Agency and will help put more people to work cleaning up and reusing our many brownfield sites, repairing local roads and making public infrastructure more energy efficient.

Tourism Marketing & Development | Budget Article 11 Sub A | Passed

discover beautiful rhode islandThe General Assembly approved the Governor’s proposal to step-up a state-branded tourism marketing campaign, something that Grow Smart has been advocating in order to better capitalize on our outstanding natural and historic assets so we can  more effectively compete with neighboring states.  The adopted plan will be funded with $4.35 million in hotel tax revenues redirected from the general fund and from regional tourism districts.  These districts continue to receive significant funding to maintain their important role in sustaining and strengthening Rhode Island’s tourism economy.

 


Transportation

Large Truck Tolls | Failed | H-6321 / S-997 Sub A

warren-ave-ridotAlthough the Senate passed Governor Raimondo’s proposal to impose tolls on large trucks, the House did not, with the Speaker pledging to reconvene in a special fall session after further due diligence is performed.  The Governor’s proposal aims to raise $1.1 billion in toll-financed revenue to accelerate bridge replacement, repair, reconstruction and maintenance.  Rhode Island currently ranks #1 in the nation for the worst bridge conditions, with 23% rated structurally deficient.  For nearly 10 years, Grow Smart has been a strong proponent for dramatically stepping up the state’s investment in transportation infrastructure, including mass transit.  We have followed and contributed to many studies about how best to sustain the state’s transportation network, including the 2008 Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Funding and the 2011 Senate Study Commission on Sustainable Transportation Funding.  We believe strongly that the Governor’s proposal is fair, equitable and will enhance Rhode Island’s economic competitiveness with neighboring states and would also facilitate the state’s pursuit of up to $400 million in additional federal funding for mass transit.

Our testimony in support of H-6321

RIPTA Enabling Legislation re: Fare Policy | Passed | H-6108 / Budget Article 22 Sub A

transit benefitAddressing an estimated RIPTA budget deficit of $5.6M for FY2016, this bill proposed changing the provision of law that mandates free and reduced bus fares for senior/disabled passengers that meet an established income means test.  It would have authorized RIPTA to charge a 1/2 fare ($1) to such passengers during peak travel periods.  Free fares for such passengers would have remained in place during off-peak travel periods.  Grow Smart reluctantly supported this proposal.  While we are sensitive to the financial hardship this would impose on those who can least afford it, we believe that the potential for service reductions would pose an even greater hardship.

Our testimony in support of H-6108

The fare provisions of H-6108 were incorporated into Budget Article 22 Sub A and extended in scope, authorizing RIPTA to eliminate free fares during non-peak travel for senior/disabled passengers meeting income means testing.  Grow Smart testified before the RIPTA Board on June 22, 2015 requesting that it avoid the elimination of free fares for such passengers during off-peak travel periods.

Increased RIPTA Funding | Passed |Budget Article 1 Sub A

busThe Raimondo Administration included an additional $2 million appropriation to strengthen mass transit and also extended a budget provision to absorb nearly $1.8M in RIPTA capital debt service, which helps to further close the projected deficit.

 


Agriculture & Food Systems

LASA Grants Funding continued, but not as stipulated in  S-416 | Passed

aquidneckmarketThrough our work on the Rhode Island Food Policy Council (RIFPC), one of the main priorities this session has been to ensure that funding for the Local Agriculture and Seafood small grants program (LASA) continues uninterrupted.  Now in its second grant year, the LASA grants program represents a proven innovative public-private partnership in which private foundations have matched the funding available from the state to make up the grant pool.  LASA grants have been used for a variety of innovative initiatives, including: support for a Rhode Island seafood marketing and branding campaign; efforts of the African Alliance of Rhode Island to assist immigrant and refugee farmers acquire more growing space, increase crop production to meet the growing demand for ethnic specialty crops and to improve merketing expertise; and capacity-building for the South County Farm to Market Initiative. This legislation would have used revenue from the lease fees paid for underwater lands used for alternative energy purposes to fund the LASA grants program.

While the General Assembly opted not to use revenue from the lease fees to fund the LASA program, it continued the state’s commitment to the program with a $100,000 outlay from the State’s general fund.

Our testimony in favor of S-416

Proposed Restrictions on use of SNAP | Failed | H-5249

Grow Smart joined with other members of the RI Food Policy Council in opposing the provisions of H-5249 which we believe would have made it more difficult for low income families to use SNAP EBT cards to purchase groceries.

Our testimony in opposition to H-5249


Community Planning

A series of proposals to weaken or undermine RI’s state planning system were introduced | Failed |

rhodemap protestH-5643, H-5644, H-6040 / S-816, H-6041 / S-820, H-6042, H-6043 / S-818
Grow Smart found itself quite unexpectedly fending off a coordinated attack against Rhode Island’s well-regarded community planning system this year.  The attacks originated from highly-conservative nationally backed and funded opposition groups in the name of liberty, local sovereignty and property rights.  Rhode Island is not the only region to be targeted.  The primary in-state organizer was the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity in conjunction with the Property Rights Alliance of Rhode Island.  While these groups succeeded in making noise and preying upon peoples’ fear and anxiety about a still-uneven economic recovery, they do not appear to be gaining any significant traction among a majority of the General Assembly or the Raimondo Administration.

Our testimony in opposition to these proposals

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