Rhode Island Senate Finance Chairman William Conley (D-East Providence) said public opinion is important, but will not ultimately determine the fate of the PawSox' proposed stadium in Pawtucket.
"The process has to be driven by the merits of the proposal," Conley said Wednesday during an interview at Rhode Island Public Radio. "Is it good for the state of Rhode Island? Will there be a good return on investment? What does it mean to the future of our state? It’s not really not a wet finger to the wind process to test which way the public opinion winds are blowing."
The Senate Finance Committee is slated to hold the first in a series of public hearings on the PawSox' proposal at 6 p.m. Thursday in Room 313 at the Statehouse. Future hearings are planned in different parts of the state.
Critics object to the proposed use of $38 million in public borrowing to support creating a new stadium for the PawSox. Supporters say the plan will inject economic vitality into Pawtucket while keeping the PawSox from leaving the state.
Conley rejected the suggestion that the hearings might amount largely to a public relations exercise.
"When I say that we're going to judge it on its merits, it doesn't mean that we disregard public opinion," he said. "But it means that we take into account what the public's concerns are. This will be the most open accessible transparent process that we can conceive of. In addition to having our hearings all over the state of Rhode Island, we've established a special web portal. We invite and encourage as many members of the public from the four corners of the state of Rhode Island to participate in those hearings."
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told RIPR last month that he hopes the stadium plan gets a vote in November. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has remained more vague about the timing for a possible vote.
Based on his experience in the Senate, Conley said, a major proposal always goes through changes from its original details.
Conley said the Senate will issue reports and findings after the hearings to support any amendments to the PawSox proposal "and also address important public comments that have merit, but for whatever reason we determined really weren't warranted. So public opinion is not going to be the litmus test, but public comment will be taken seriously."
UPDATE: RI GOP Chairman Responds.
Here's a statement by RI GOP Chairman Brandon Bell, regarding Conley's comments:
"In response, Republican Party Chairman Brandon S. Bell stated: 'It is a sad day for our democracy in Rhode Island when its elected officials can so blatantly declare that public opinion does not matter. Knowing that the people are against subsidizing a new PawSox stadium, Senator Conley wants to talk about the 'merits' of the PawSox deal. Steven Frias, Rhode Island’s National Committeeman, has written a paper for public comment giving numerous reasons why the new PawSox deal should be rejected. Here are 10 reasons why the PawSox deal should be rejected on the merits:
1.Economists have shown that public subsidies for new stadiums make no economic sense
2.The projections used by promoters of a new stadium are not reliable
3.PawSox won’t guarantee the tax revenue projections because the risks are not minimal
4.Taking on public debt without voter approval to build a new stadium is just like 38 Studios.
5.It is unclear how much it will cost taxpayers to obtain the land for the new stadium.
6.The legislation will significantly expand the ability of government to use eminent domain
7.There are better uses of taxpayer money like tax relief or repairing our schools
8.Massachusetts state taxpayers will not fund a new stadium for the PawSox
9.Rhode Island will not lose tax revenues if the PawSox leave because consumers would spend their money on other local recreation and entertainment locations
10. A new baseball stadium is not the economic solution for Pawtucket’s problems
Bell concluded: 'The people of Rhode Island are against using taxpayer money to build a new stadium. State House insiders should remember that politicians who ignore public opinion usually have trouble staying in office.' "