The 2017 legislative session was a tumultuous one highlighted by a period of fractured trust between House and Senate leaders concerning the phase-out of the car tax. The House abruptly adjourned on June 30, 2017 leaving several key bills, including the State Budget, in limbo and requiring a special one-day clean-up session on September 19, 2017 to complete the Budget and bring closure to several other pending bills.
The smart growth agenda gained some important ground with legislative and policy advances in support of stronger, more vibrant and revitalized communities. However, we also experienced some setbacks such as stalled movement to recapitalize the very successful State Historic Tax Credit program (although we saved it from extinction) as well as a proposal to create a state and local partnership to invest in municipal infrastructure that’s critical to unlocking private investment in our urban and town centers across Rhode Island. We remain confident that together with a coalition of business and civic leaders, we can advance critical elements of our 2017 priorities in the 2018 General Assembly session that will convene in less than two months.
Community Revitalization / Economic Development:
State Historic Tax Credit
Although a standalone bill to repeal the June 30, 2017 sunset of the State Historic Tax Credit (S-136), failed to pass, the State Budget (through Article 2) extended the sunset to June 30, 2019. The State Historic Preservation Investment Tax Credit, has been a very effective incentive for repurposing vacant and underutilized historic structures in transit-rich existing centers of development. These projects often involve brownfield remediation, neighborhood revitalization, enhanced public safety and an alternative to environmentally harmful development on farmland and forestland. The program, operating only on the recycling of previously authorized and unused credits and processing fee income, has a waiting list of 32 projects representing more than a quarter billion dollars in redevelopment investment in communities across Rhode Island.
This bill that we backed failed to get out of committee. Grow Smart RI will continue to coordinate with a broad coalition of partners to advance a recapitalization of the Historic Tax Credit during the 2018 General Assembly.
This legislation would have provided more time – approximately an extra two months – than is currently allowed to pay the HTC processing fee for those enrolled in the program. Because the RI Historic Tax Credit program’s processing fee is much higher than that in most other state HTC programs, we backed this bill.
Would have created a competitive grant program for municipalities similar to MassWorks in Massachusetts that supports smart growth and green infrastructure investments in our already developed urban, town and village centers where such investment is critical to incent private development for public benefit. We believe this proposal got caught up in the abrupt adjournment of the General Assembly last June and we’re confident the bill will pass during the upcoming session.
View our testimony before the House Finance Committee
Capital Financing for Housing Affordability
Grow Smart RI supported S317/H5565, which would have provided $5 million in capital financing for affordable housing in the FY18 budget. Since 2006, Rhode Islanders have supported Bond investments in affordable housing that have leveraged $400 million in additional investments and supported the development of more than 2,000 affordable homes for low and moderate-income Rhode Islanders. With an actual line-item investment in our state budget, we had hoped to become more competitive with our neighboring states, which invest $99.72 of state government dollars per capita (Massachusetts) and $76.98 per capita (Connecticut) compared to our current per capita investment of $8.46. Thoughtful and deliberate investment in affordable housing development has the ability to positively impact family stability, neighborhood and community revitalization, and the State’s overall economy.
With access to robust mass transit now seen as a competitive edge in the new economy (witness the Amazon RFP emphasis on this), Rhode Island is developing a comprehensive vision and transit master plan to optimize the State’s investments in transit and to help get more residents and visitors where they need to go when they need to get there, quickly and efficiently. This initiative is reflected as Task 6.1 in Rhode Island’s Unified Transportation Work Program for FY2018. We have been the leading proponents for undertaking this plan for the past two years.
Despite the success of RIPTA’s popular transit pass program for private sector employees (EcoPass) and despite a 2008 state law (36-6-21.1) calling for a similar program for the state’s 14,500 employees, this initiative has yet to advance. It was proposed in the state’s FY2018 Unified Transportation Work Program and was also recommended for inclusion in the update of the state’s 10-year State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), but has so far failed to be prioritized for implementation.
Grow Smart RI continues to support enthusiastically maintaining and strengthening the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) technical assistance grants that have proven effective in strengthening Rhode Island’s food system, economy and public health. We did so this year by supporting the Governor’s proposed $200,000 line item appropriation for LASA in the FY2018 State Budget. The adopted State Budget maintained level funding of $100,000.
Grow Smart opposed these companion bills. Although we strongly support the development of renewable energy, we had serious reservations about allowing renewable energy facilities of any scale on farms and forests without local approval. Generally, we object to development that takes prime farmland out of production or further fragments forests and believe that we need strong incentives to locate renewable energy facilities in urban locations such as rooftops, parking lots (solar canopies), brownfield sites, etc.
Subdivision of Land
Grow Smart RI opposed these companion bills. While we do support an efficient and timely development process that removes unnecessary impediments, the existing Land Development and Subdivision Review Enabling Act was carefully crafted with the input of a broad group of stakeholders to insure the requirements were properly vetted, reasonable and effective. We don’t believe that amendments to this Act, without going through a similar consensus building approach is in the best interests of making good land use decisions in Rhode Island.
Towns and Cities Zoning Ordinance (notice)
Grow Smart RI opposed this bill. It required municipalities to provide notice to owners and holders of conservation and preservation restrictions, whose property is located in an area proposed for a zoning ordinance amendment that includes changes to dimensional requirements. We believe the proposed bill would add an unnecessary, burdensome, and expensive requirement to cities and towns. Any party that wishes to be informed of proposed zoning amendments can use the existing public notice registry.
Other bills that Grow Smart RI Monitored:
HOUSE RESOLUTION EXTENDING THE REPORTING AND EXPIRATION DATES OF THE SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION TO STUDY THE LOW AND MODERATE INCOME HOUSING ACT (H. Res. 5134)
Extends the reporting and expiration dates of the legislative commission to study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act from February 11, 2017, to May 30, 2017, and said commission expires on July 30, 2017. Scott Wolf serves on this commission.
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES—STATEWIDE MUNICIPAL SOLAR PERMIT (H-5575)
Passed and signed by Governor
Requires the Rhode Island office of energy resources, in consultation with the building commission to promulgate rules and regulations to create a statewide solar photovoltaic permit application.
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES—RHODE ISLAND DEVELOPMENT IMPACT FEE ACT (S-333)
Amends several sections of the general laws pertaining to the calculation of impact fees by municipalities in the state by requiring that needs assessments of the fees be conducted every five years with certain exceptions.
AN ACT RELATING TO AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY—RIGHT TO FARM (H-6172 Sub A)
Did not pass
Changes the Right to Farm laws to allow farms to host weddings, festivals and retail operations even if local laws prohibit them. The legislation was opposed by the Rhode Island Farm Bureau and the Rhode Island Land Trust Council.
AN ACT RELATING TO AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY—FARM CONSERVATION AND RENEWABLE ENERGY (S-703)
Did not pass
Provides for siting and operating standards for farm-based renewable energy facilities. Creates rules for building renewable energy systems on farms.
AN ACT RELATING TO WATERS AND NAVIGATION—THE CLIMATE CHANGE COASTAL ADAPTATION TRUST FUND (S-442 Sub A)
Establishes the Rhode Island coastal adaptation trust fund which would enable cities and towns and the state to apply for grants to fund projects that invest in measures that adapt infrastructure on public lands to address the impacts of climate change.
AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION—TAXATION OF FARM, FOREST, AND OPEN SPACE LAND (S-570 Sub A)
Exempts no more than twenty percent (20%) of the total land acreage previously classified as farm, forest, or open space land from land use change tax if the change is for purposes of a commercial renewable energy system.
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES—LOCAL PLANNING BOARD OR COMMISSION (H-5042 as amended)
Requires planning board members to receive training on issues related to development in flood plains and the effects of sea level rise.
AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS—RENEWABLE ENERGY GROWTH PROGRAM (H-5274 Sub A)
The highly regarded Renewable Energy Growth program was given a 10-year extension and an additional 400 megawatts of renewable-energy capacity for solar and wind projects built between 2020 and 2029.
AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT—MICRO ZONE ECONOMIC REVITALIZATION ACT (S-319)
Did not pass
Creates micro zones in distressed areas to stimulate economic revitalization, employment opportunities, and business development through the redevelopment of obsolete, dilapidated and abandoned industrial and commercial structures.
AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS—SOLAR ENERGY PERMITTING (S-943)
Did not pass
Promotes the development and utilization of solar energy systems by reducing local burdens on the development process thereto.
AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS—PUBLIC TRANSIT AUTHORITY (H-5027)
Did not pass
Enables the Rhode Island public transit authority (RIPTA) to work with the Massachusetts Bay transit authority (MBTA) to allow commuter rail passes to be used as dual passes for both RIPTA and MBTA.
AN ACT RELATING TO WATERS AND NAVIGATION—THE CLIMATE CHANGE COASTAL ADAPTATION TRUST FUND (H-5808)
Did not pass
Establishes the RI coastal adaptation trust fund which would enable cities and towns and the state to apply for grants to fund projects that invest in measures that adapt infrastructure on public lands to address the impacts of climate change.
AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT—STATEWIDE SITE READINESS FUND (H-5911)
Did not pass
Creates the statewide site readiness fund, a state sponsored fund for the preparation of shared ready commercial, industrial, and manufacturing property in the state.
AN ACT RELATING TO TOWNS AND CITIES (H-6129)
Did not pass
Amends the provisions of the tax increment financing act in order to encourage municipalities to use tax increment financing to facilitate economic development.