State Representative Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick) says she plans to introduce a bill Wednesday that would allow voters to decide if the new owners of the PawSox can use public financing or tax relief to build their envisioned ballpark on former I-195 land in Providence.
Morgan says the measure is necessary to protect taxpayers. As an example, she points to how taxpayers subsidize the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority to the tune of millions of dollars each year "without even having been given the right to say yes or no."
"That’s [the taxpayers'] money," Morgan said. "It’s not some men sitting around a table, yucking it up with one another. It is the people’s money, and they have a right to say yes or no."
According to a 1993 Providence Sunday Journal story on what was called "the Rolls-Royce of convention centers," "Financial discussions that wound up costing the taxpayers millions were conducted in private -- even though the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority had been told by then-Attorney General James E. O'Neil that votes had to be taken in public to comply with the state open-meeting law."
The new owners of the PawSox, led by Providence lawyer and power broker James Skeffington, have said they hope to build a new ballpark for the AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox on the banks of the Providence River. A formal proposal has not yet been made, although more details are expected next month.
Skeffington served as bond counsel and development counsel for the convention center, as the 1993 ProJo story notes. Critics such as then-mayor Buddy Cianci faulted Skeffington for what they called a conflict posed by the dual role, according to the story, while "convention center officials praised Skeffington for coming up with financing plans that made it possible for the project to be built as its price more than tripled and the cost of debt service jumped from $9.4 million to $24.3 million a year."
During an interview last week on Rhode Island Public Radio, Governor Gina Raimondo declined to say what level of public subsidy she would support for a new PawSox ballpark. It was impossible to cite a precise amount, she said, because it depends on how the proposal is structured.
Skeffington and other boosters of the Providence ballpark hail it as a "game-changer" that would boost the city and its appeal.
Yet Morgan and some other observers are skeptical, mindful of the state's disastrous experience with 38 Studios, the video game company that was owned by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
Leaving the public out of a decision to help subsidize a ballpark is “kind of what happened in 38 Studios, right?" Morgan said. "Some guys somewhere, some people, hey, we’ll just give the people’s money away.”
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