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Editorial & Opinion

Concerns over the current PawSox legislation



Jeanine Calkin

Let me start off by saying, I am a fan of the PawSox. I’ve enjoyed watching many games at McCoy Stadium, and love having the PawSox here in Pawtucket. But with that being said, my job as State Senator is to objectively analyze the current proposed legislation in Senate bills S-2001 and S-2002, listen to input from my constituents, perform research, and eventually make a decision on
whether or not to support the legislation. At this time, I cannot support either of these bills as currently written.

Over a period of several months last year, there was a series of six Senate Finance hearings where these bills were discussed. I listened intently to all of the testimony on both sides, and have compared the most recent changes to the bills compared with the original versions. I am appreciative for all the time and work that so many have put into this legislation, however, I still have concerns about the bills as currently written.

As part of the Series A bonds, the PawSox ownership is only required to put forward $12M of their own money, with the rest of the $45M being made from partial naming rights and team rentals. Given that the State is specifically designated as the “lessee” and the PawSox as “sublessee” for financing purposes, there is of course the concern of what happens if the PawSox ownership fails to meet the requirements of the sublease without specific language in the legislation that would require the ownership to fulfill payments on the remainder of the bonds owed.

In regards to the State’s Series B bonds of $23M which are to be financed from tax revenue from users of the ballpark and ancillary development, the legislation seems unclear in defining what happens if this tax revenue falls short of expectations. Also, part of this revenue will come from a ticket tax / surcharge which could potentially exclude current ballpark users because they can no
longer afford the tickets.

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I also have apprehension with the Series C bonds for the City of Pawtucket in that if the city cannot afford to make payments, expected from tax revenue on real estate, food and beverages etc, that the city can use State Aid for these payments.

The current legislation requires the Governor put the payments for the bonds into the yearly budget as long as the bond payments are needed (currently 30 years).

If tax revenues fall short of expectations, the state budget will be impacted and I have concerns over what services could potentially be cut, especially at a time when our state is already facing a large budget deficit.

Even if the tax revenues were to meet expectations, the PawSox ownership will gain a new stadium after only a $12M investment of their own funds, the balance paid for by other sources, and the state will not be generating any revenue from the stadium for 30 years, as the revenue generated will go back to paying the bonds. This will be a financial loss of the State’s revenues currently generated at McCoy.

I also do not see anything described in the bill that addresses the costs of taking down McCoy Stadium, which could cost in the millions. There is also the issue in that McCoy is a local landmark, and has historical and emotional significance to many in Pawtucket, and state-wide.

In regards to “redevelopment areas”, I am glad that proposed changes to remove the requirement that restricts redevelopment to only “blighted and substandard areas” have been removed from the latest version of the bill. However, I am still concerned with the change in the language which currently restricts authorization for construction for redevelopment areas, to allow construction of new buildings including for residential, commercial or other purposes.

The people of Rhode Island deserve to have a government that puts their interests above those by any corporate entity. This legislation would allow state agencies to take out bonds for construction for any purpose, to the benefit of a for-profit corporation, and paid for by the taxpayers of the state. Any such expenditure should require the approval of the voters of the state.

Rhode Island State Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) is the secretary of the Senate Committee on Environment & Agriculture and a member of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.