With the House Finance Committee set to review a revised PawSox stadium plan on Thursday, debate continues about whether the project is good or bad for Rhode Island taxpayers.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has said for months that he would support the stadium, if the risk was reduced for taxpayers. Mattiello said the latest iteration of the stadium plan accomplishes that goal by making the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority, rather than state taxpayers, responsible for a potential shortfall in paying back bonds for the project.
“I have been reluctant to move forward with prior versions of the deal because of the risk to the state’s taxpayers,” Mattiello said in a statement. “This alternative envisions segregating revenues generated in a new Tax Increment Financing District to ensure that revenues from the project will be directly tied to the debt payments, and the project will stand or fall on its own.”
Under the envisioned TIF district, tax revenue from in and around the ballpark planned for the site of the Apex building would pay back by bonds issued by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority.
But Rhode Island Republican Chairman Brandon Bell argued in a statement that state taxpayers could still wind up on the hook for financial problems that may arise from the stadium.
"When the City of Pawtucket proves incapable of finding the money to pay for the stadium bonds, it will turn to the State of Rhode Island to bail it out," Bell said. "The City of Pawtucket already has a high level of debt and pension liabilities. The Senate Finance Committee was told that it could take ten years before any development near a new ballpark could generate enough money to cover the city’s bonds. The new proposal will make the situation worse for Pawtucket by increasing the borrowing costs of the bonds. Even if the State of Rhode Island does not back-stop the stadium bonds now, it will end up bailing out Pawtucket in the future when it lacks the funds to pay for these bonds."
Meanwhile, the amendment to incorporate Mattiello's revision into legislative language has not been made public as of Wednesday afternoon.
Asked if Senate President Dominick Ruggerio supports the latest stadium proposal, Senate spokesman Greg Pare said, "We haven’t seen the bill yet."
The Senate passed a bill for the PawSox stadium in January, after a lengthy series of hearings. Mattiello said at the time that he would not support the measure without changes to make it better for taxpayers.
In 2016, Mattiello beat Republican rival Steve Frias, a stadium opponent, by 85 votes in his re-election for state rep in Cranston. The speaker denies that is a factor in his approach to the stadium issue.
Meanwhile, Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien said he remains supportive of Mattiello's effort to create an agreement on the stadium.
“While we have yet to see the final legislation, conceptually, we understand where the speaker and the House’s legislative changes to this great deal are coming from," Grebien said. "This is a critical opportunity that the state must capitalize on. Together, we can truly do something special for this state at no risk to the taxpayers. This remains a key component of Pawtucket’s future development and quality of life.
"I look forward to reviewing the final legislation," Grebien continued, "and working with the state and the team to move Pawtucket, the Blackstone Valley and Rhode Island forward. I am very excited to get to the real work of getting this fantastic project off the ground.”