Yesterday provided the perfect setting for PVD Fest, which I encourage you to visit if you have not already. This week’s letter will discuss reforming the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools, a proposal to bring “advanced recycling” to Rhode Island and legislation to allow the City to grant a 30-year tax stabilization agreement to promote the construction of apartments at 111 Westminster Street (also known as the Superman Building).
Reforming the State’s Takeover of the Providence Public Schools
Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee approved S2838-A, an amended version of a bill I introduced (and described in my April 3 letter) that would bring bring limited oversight to the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools. In response to testimony at legislative hearings, the amended bill:
- removes the sections that would govern future takeovers of Rhode Island schools and school districts, narrowing its focus to the current State takeover of the Providence Public Schools;
- assigns oversight responsibilities to the Providence School Board rather than a newly-created Board of Trustees, and
- extends by two years (until October, 2024), the duration of the takeover, subject to renewal under defined criteria.
The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday (June 14) and forward the bill to the House of Representatives if it passes. In the meantime, the House of Representatives also will continue its review of the companion bill introduced by Representative Kislak.
Introducing Advanced Recycling to Rhode Island
Last Tuesday, the Senate approved S-2788A, a bill designed to promote the introduction of “advanced recycling,” using a process called pyrolosis, to Rhode Island by exempting its facilities from the standard solid waste regulatory framework established under state law. As described in a 2021 Reuters report, the goal of advanced recycling technology is to break down used plastic into component parts that can be used for fuel and for feedstock for new plastic. To date, recycling plastic in bulk has proven difficult because of the varied chemical characteristics of different types of plastic in manufactured goods (even those which have the same “recycling number” assigned to them). Unfortunately, as described in the Reuters report, the current technology has not yet achieved this goal, instead producing unusable (and in some cases toxic) byproducts and air pollution.
The bill was amended in committee to reduce the eligible locations in the State where the facility could be sited, and to add some regulatory safeguards. On the other hand, the amended bill still excludes other important components of the Department of Environmental Management review of other solid waste disposal facilities. Because I believe it is at a minimum premature to exempt this technology from DEM’s standard regulatory program, I voted against the bill. The bill passed the Senate; therefore, environmental advocates will shift their attention to the House of Representatives in the hope of preventing the bill’s passage in that chamber.
An Extended Tax Stabilization Agreement for the Superman Building
On Tuesday night, the Senate Finance Committee voted to recommend passage by the full Senate of legislation that would allow the City of Providence to negotiate a tax stabilization agreement of up to 30 years with the owners of 111 Westminster Street to promote its development. As many of us know, that building has been vacant for nine years, and the high cost of renovation (along with the weakness of the City’s downtown commercial real estate market) make it especially difficult to identify a financially viable reuse of the building. The typical Providence tax stabilization agreement postpones the taxation of the building at full post-development value for a period of up to 20 years, escalating the taxable value over the stabilization period. The agreement typically also includes regulations concerning worker apprenticeship programs, requirements to employ minority-owned businesses and community benefits programs.
As a State Senator, I voted in favor of authorizing Providence to use this enhanced tax incentive. As a Providence resident, I will urge City officials to engage in careful and vigorous negotiations with the owner, and not to “give away the store” if the owner fails to produce a proposal that justifies the investment of substantial public resources in the project’s development.