October 25, 2014
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My take on the news
Question for voters, can we afford to borrow more?
Lonnie Barham

REFERENDA QUESTIONS: Seven referenda questions will be on the statewide ballot. All would be worthy of approval if our economy wasn't teetering on the edge of a financial abyss. The questions must be evaluated based on their immediate necessity. Some need to be passed now; others can wait for a more prosperous economy.

Questions One and Two – Gaming at Twin River and Newport Grand: Pass. Will allow table games at these two casinos. It’s a no-brainer. Our state needs the shared revenue and the new jobs; and we need to keep our citizens’ money in R.I. instead of sending it to table games in Massachusetts.

Question Three – Higher Education Facilities Bonds: Reject. Will borrow $50 million for construction and repairs to facilities at our state colleges. Education is extremely important, but other spending priorities have to take precedence until our economy is more stable and our unemployment situation is resolved.

Question Four – Veterans’ Home Bonds: Reject. Will borrow $94 million for a new veterans’ home and for improvements to the current home in Bristol. We all greatly appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have made in defense of our country (this writer is a military retiree). The current home could use some updating but it has no dangerous or significant quality of life problems; it is in better shape than most nursing homes. A new home would serve less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Rhode Island’s veterans. This referendum should be pushed off to the 2014 election or beyond.

Question Five – Clean Water Finance Agency Bonds: Pass. Will borrow $20 million for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. Clean drinking water protects the health of all Rhode Islanders. These improvements will also decrease wastewater runoff into our waterways – thus helping attract new businesses and helping to maintain our tourism industry. Regardless of our poor economy, we need to pass this referendum.

Question Six – Environmental Management Agency Bonds: Reject. Will borrow $20 million to help restore and protect Narragansett Bay water quality, acquire open land, build and improve recreation areas, and build new parks. Only $4 million will go toward water quality, with $16 million going to buy open spaces and build parks and recreation areas. This is way too much spending on “nice to have but not essential” projects that can be held off for the future.

Question Seven – Affordable Housing Bonds: Pass. Will borrow $25 million for affordable housing in Rhode Island. The poor, homeless and near-homeless population in Rhode Island has grown dramatically during this economic downturn and includes some of our most vulnerable citizens – including children. This spending will not only help these unfortunate neighbors, it will also help stimulate the construction industry in R.I. and create jobs.

FOX-BINDER RACE: Voters in the Providence district represented by House Speaker Gordon Fox face a dilemma. Fox's opponent, Mark Binder, continues to hold Fox accountable for the dirty details surrounding approval of legislation that added $75 million to a long-languishing bill that Fox resurrected and pushed through the House without telling legislators that he had added the money solely for a loan guarantee to 38 Studios; a loan that Fox and a few insiders had already agreed upon without the knowledge of those voting on the bill. Binder has also circumstantially connected several of Fox's leadership decisions with near simultaneous campaign contributions. Was there misuse of the Speaker’s position? Was there “pay-to-play?" Binder, however, may be even worse for voters. He implied that he would have voted against pension reform; he is opposed to the voter ID law; and he is in favor of now defaulting on the 38 Studios loan guarantee. It is indeed a dilemma. Neither candidate seems good for Rhode Island. We truly need a block on the ballot for voters to mark "none of the above," with a rule in place that says if this block ends up with a plurality of the vote, a new election must be held within 90 days and none of the rejected candidates would be able to run.

TIME FOR TERM LIMITS? Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty says he supports term limits for members of Congress. In fact, he says that he will serve no more than three two-year terms if he is elected this November. Is it time for America to impose term limits on members of Congress? There are certainly many reasons to take such action.

Most important is that the current system of unlimited re-elections causes representatives and senators to kowtow to special interests and big campaign contributors by casting their votes based on what will help ensure their re-election instead of what is best for their constituents, and to vote in collusion with others in Congress to pass bills that help them amass personal power rather than spread good to the people. When members of congress devote so much of their energy to this “career self preservation,” they will never vote to approve tough but unpopular changes – such as spending cuts or tax increases – changes that may be necessary for our country's survival. Limits of three two-year terms for representatives and two six-year terms for senators would return Congress to the legislative body envisioned by the founding fathers – one in which we select our neighbors to go to Washington for short periods to represent our best interests instead of their own.

Last year 11 senators co-sponsored a bill to amend the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits. The bill failed in the Democrat-dominated Senate. Perhaps "Congressman" Doherty can help change things in Washington if he introduces a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: This week's issue of Reason magazine published the chant that was used by rioters after they ransacked the American embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012 – the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon and Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. The chant: "Obama, Obama, we are all Osama!" This surely puts a new spin on the fiction President Obama has been pushing that his administration has "got Al Qaeda on the run."


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