To the Editor:
The Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) recently sent a financing plan for its proposed runway extension at
T. F. Green Airport to the State Planning Council for state approval. This is an FAA requirement that must be met before the FAA issues its Record of Decision (ROD) on airport expansion.
This RIAC financing plan was prepared in early August as the FAA deadline was approaching. The numbers came up short by $26.2 million compared to RIAC's own June 14, 2011, Audit Committee report on projected costs of improvements for T.F. Green Airport. The numbers should have been the same.
A problem came up at the Planning Council meeting. Several members were unavailable for this August meeting vacations or whatever. Would there be enough "yes" votes? The City of Warwick raised objections and some Council members expressed concerns. With so many members absent, a few "no" votes could have killed the plan. A motion was made to delay the vote to the next meeting when more sure "yes" votes would be on hand.
The Governor's Director of Policy, who served as the Council's Vice Chairman, was running the meeting. He made a procedural error. He failed to ask for a critical vote on an amendment suggested by a potential "yes" voter that would force the Council to act, one way or another, on September 15th. In doing so, he appears to have violated the Planning Council's rules of procedure and Rhode Island's Open Meetings Act. The vote on the amendment was implied and was not counted, an open meetings requirement.
Why is this a serious violation? Consider this: The cost of the $26.2 million shortfall will double. That's because RIAC does not have the funds on hand to cover the gap and would need to borrow the money. Debt service would double the cost of the borrowing. Fitch Ratings, a rating agency that specializes in airport financing, announced earlier this summer that if RIAC borrows any more money for any reason, its credit rating would drop. This fact was not revealed to the State Planning Council by RIAC in the August financing plan, an irresponsible omission.
I have asked the Attorney General to review this controversial amendment. Forcing the Planning Council to vote up or down on the financing plan at the September meeting is bad policy. Approval of the plan would allow the $26.2 million shortfall to slip through without public comment, and create a showdown with Fitch Ratings. Forcing the Planning Council's vote is inexcusable and a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The RIAC Board must recognize that its first responsibility in this matter is to ensure that its financial records presented to the State Planning Council are accurate and beyond reproach. Sending the plan to the State Planning Council with the $26.2 million conflict with RIAC's own Audit Committee findings made two months earlier is repugnant and a violation of the public trust.
Not mentioning the Fitch Ratings problem in the RIAC financing plan is unacceptable. Planning Council members need to know that if they vote "yes" they could lower not only RIAC's bond rating but also the state's as a whole. That is the way bond ratings work.
Rhode Island taxpayers must say "NO" to those who would try to use what's left of Rhode Island's good credit ratings for special airport projects. These projects destroy any potential we have for real jobs creation in our tiny state. We need jobs, not runway extensions.