House Finance Approves PawSox Bill; Debate To Continue Friday

Jun 21, 2018

State Rep. Carlos Tobon (D-Pawtucket), wearing a PawSox shirt, talks with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on Thursday.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Rhode Island's House Finance Committee approved legislation Thursday that would help create a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox, although House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello moved to continue the debate on Friday after Rep. Moira Walsh (D-Providence) said she hadn't had adequate time to review the 21-page bill.

"We may be here Saturday," Mattiello said, due to a volume of unfinished business in the House.

The Finance Committee approved the PawSox plan on a 14 to 4 vote, with 1 abstention, during a meeting that lasted about 30 minutes.

Republicans Reps. Patricia Morgan of West Warwick, Ken Mendonca of Portsmouth, Anthony Giarrusso of East Greenwich, and Robert Quattrocchi of Scituate voted against the bill, while Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-South Kingstown) abstained, saying she needed more time to read the legislation.

Morgan, in comments on the House floor, echoed that concern. She questioned beginning debate on a proposal of the magnitude of the PawSox stadium at 9:47 pm -- just 13 minutes shy of Mattiello's general 10 p.m. deadline for ending activity in the House chamber. Mattiello agreed a short time later after Walsh expressed a similar concern.

The newly modified bill is based on a plan unveiled by Mattiello in May. He said it reduces risk for taxpayers by utilizing the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority to issue bonds. The bonds would be paid back by revenue from a stadium on the Apex site near Slater Mill in Pawtucket and from surrounding parcels.

Under this plan, the PawSox would pay $45 million toward the cost of the stadium, while borrowing by the PRA would generate another $38 million.

According to House Fiscal Adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland, the borrowing would be in the form of non-recourse special revenue bonds, meaning that if tax revenue isn't sufficient to pay back bond buyers, the issuer of the bonds faces no other obligation.

Ferland charaterized the bill under consideration in House Finance as enabling legislation, with details on underwriting to be developed during a subsequent "due diligence" phase of the process.

Yet the House floor debate on the stadium may be a lengthy one on Friday, starting some time after 3 p.m.

It also remains unclear how the state Senate, which passed its own stadium plan in January, will come down on the House version, although the Senate may be reluctant to stand in the way of the project.

In beginning arguments against the stadium, House GOP Leader Patricia Morgan, a candidate for governor, argued that the wealthy ownership of the PawSox should finance a stadium themselves. She also said that stadiums generally do not pay for themselves as a public investment.

The PawSox have not commented on Mattiello's plan, although Pawtucket officials appear confident it will keep the team in Rhode Island.

Supporters argue that a new PawSox stadium would catalyze economic development in Pawtucket, while keeping the top minor league team of the Boston Red Sox from moving to Worcester or some other location.