March 5, 2023 District Letter

Dear Neighbors:

I hope you were able to celebrate Presidents’ Day and/or the school vacation week. With the General Assembly’s return to session, this week’s letter discusses the confirmation hearing of Peter Alviti, Jr., Director of the Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the first hearing of the Senate’s commission to study certain alternative voting systems.

1.     Transportation Policy and the Act on Climate

This past Tuesday night, the Senate Finance Committee held its confirmation hearing for RIDOT Director Alviti. During his tenure, Rhode Island has made significant progress in repairing roads and bridges; however, a number of citizens spoke in opposition to his renomination due to concerns about the need for more attention to other transportation-related issues, including (1) the development of bicycle infrastructure, (2) pedestrian safety on State roads and (3) the de-carbonization requirements of the Act on Climate.

During my question time, Director Alviti agreed to meet with City officials to discuss improvements to traffic safety at the intersection of Doyle Avenue and North Main Street, which recently was the scene of a second pedestrian fatality. I focused my remaining time on the Act on Climate’s mandates. That Act requires Rhode Island to reduce its overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emission levels from a 1990 baseline by 10% in 2020 and 45% in 2030. To measure our progress, the Department of Environmental Management published a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory which at page 7 measures the State’s progress against the 1990 baseline in many categories, including “Highway Vehicles,” which accounts for more than one-third of the total. The chart reveals that the State met its 10% reduction goal for 2020 in this category; however, it did so primarily in the earlier years and not the most recent ones, during which the average annual rate of GHG emission reduction was less than 1%. 

In order to meet the 45% reduction by 2030, highway vehicle emissions will have to be reduced by one-third over the next seven or eight years. DOT’s critics at the hearing asserted that any meaningful reduction in highway vehicle emissions will require a reduction in overall highway miles traveled, which is not consistent with DOT’s recent initiatives to add additional highway lanes. I asked Director Alviti if the 2030 mandate for highway vehicles was realistic, and if it was DOT’s policy to comply with that mandate in that category. While acknowledging the urgency and the importance of the Act on Climate, Director Alviti stated that DOT needed to improve its data measurement capacity before it could develop a compliance plan. It goes without saying that the environmental realities we face in Rhode Island and globally are not amenable to extensions and delays. I believe the General Assembly will need to conduct meaningful oversight over the Department of Transportation to ensure compliance with this vital requirement, and I will do my best from my seat on the Senate Finance Committee to advance this work in upcoming budget hearings.

2.     The Alternative Voting Systems Study Commission

As noted in my February 19 letter, the Senate approved the establishment of a commission to study voting systems that could be an alternative to Rhode Island’s current “first past the post” plurality system, which can raise questions about the breadth of support for the winning candidate in a multi-candidate election. This past Wednesday, the Commission held its first meeting, which you can view on video by clicking here. (You can view the Commission’s documents by clicking here. A highlight was a Presentation by Professor Adam Myers of Providence College, who summarized many of the alternative voting systems (run-off elections, ranked choice elections and hybrids) currently in place in other states and municipalities, while also laying out some of the critical policy questions that underlie this choice. Our current system will face another test later this year, when an anticipated large field of candidates will compete in a special election to fill the seat that Congressman Cicilline announced he will vacate. 

I expect the Study Commission to hold its next meeting on Wednesday, March 22 at 5:00 p.m. If scheduling permits, the Commission will hold three more meetings after that, also on Wednesdays at three-week intervals. The Commission then will resume its work this Fall, producing a report for the Senate’s consideration in next year’s session.