- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Islanders will vote on several statewide ballot measures that would authorize hundreds of millions of dollars of spending the arts, higher education and more as well as allow the expansion of gambling in Newport.

Here’s a look at the seven questions on the Nov. 4 ballot:

THE ARTS

Supporters of Question 5 say the $35 million it would authorize in bonds to support arts groups would mark the largest single investment in arts, culture and preservation in the state. They call the sector a critical part of Rhode Island’s economy.

The bulk of the money would go to nine organizations: Trinity Repertory Company, WaterFire, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Stadium Theatre, United Theatre, 2nd Story Theatre, AS 220, the Chorus of Westerly and the Newport Performing Arts Center. The grants will be matched one-to-one by the institutions.

“For a state that looks awfully small on the map, we’re awfully big in the arts and cultural world,” Chorus of Westerly Executive Director Ryan Saunders said at the recent bond campaign kickoff. “And if we could be a leader for the rest of the country to say look at what Rhode Island is doing, that’s going to get noticed across our sector.”

THE CASINO QUESTIONS

Questions 1 and 2 relate to gambling. The first would allow for the addition of table games like blackjack and roulette at the Newport Grand slots hall. The second would amend the constitution to require local voter approval for a change in location of a gambling facility.

The developer poised to buy Newport Grand has pledged a $40 million overhaul to turn it into an “entertainment center” and says the project will protect and create jobs and bring the city revenue. Opponents say full-fledged gambling would degrade the community. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who represents Newport, came out against the expansion after the city council rejected a host agreement.

URI’S ENGINEERING SCHOOL

Question 4 authorizes $125 million in borrowing for a new 195,000-square-foot College of Engineering building at the University of Rhode Island and renovations to existing facilities. Several outdated buildings would be torn down.

Business, education and political leaders call the spending a good investment. They say modern facilities will help the school and state remain competitive by training graduates for work in a critical growth sector that supports the defense, biomedical and other industries.

“There is a correlation between education and our economic future. I would argue that Question 4 is an investment in that future,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said at the bond kickoff.

The project would begin around February and be scheduled for completion in summer 2019.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

Question 3 asks voters whether to hold a convention where delegates would consider changes to the Rhode Island constitution. Any amendments would later have to be approved, in turn, by voters. A convention was rejected in 2004 and 1994; the last one took place in 1986.

Proponents say it would help bring government reforms like the line-item veto and restored ethics oversight of the General Assembly. But some groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Citizens for Responsible Government oppose the convention, saying they fear it will be coopted by special interests and raise issues like abortion that have nothing to do with government reform and would roll back civil rights.

The question authorizes no spending. The estimated cost of a convention is $2.5 million.

MASS TRANSIT

Question 6 would allow $35 million in borrowing for renovations to transit infrastructure throughout the state. Supporters say a modern transportation system is essential to economic development because it will link people with jobs and educational and other facilities. They say the funding would allow the state Department of Transportation and Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to build on plans to modernize the Providence train station, create new transportation hubs and upgrade public bus and rail services. It could help leverage additional federal money.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Question 7 authorizes $53 million in bonds for the environment and recreation. The Roger Williams Park Zoo would get $15 million for new exhibits, a new education center and other work, while Roger Williams Park would get $3 million. The question designates $20 million to address water pollution; $5 million for environmental cleanup and reuse projects; and $3 million for farmland preservation, among other expenditures.

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