| March 21
March 21 Rhode Island's cash-strapped cities
could get help financing road and bridge repairs under a
discounted state revolving loan fund proposed on Thursday by
state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and state lawmakers.
The proposal would expand the triple-A rated, quasi-public
Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency, allowing it to make
low-interest loans to local governments for road and bridge
projects in addition to the water projects it already finances.
Virginia, Kansas and Ohio have similar programs, according
to Raimondo's office.
The legislation, which is still being drafted, comes as
cash-strapped state and local governments across the United
States search for ways to finance trillions of dollars of
improvements in the nation's aging infrastructure.
Rhode Island's plan calls for initial new investments - up
to an estimated $70 million over the next two decades - from the
state or potentially from private sources, Raimondo told
Reuters. No new borrowing is anticipated, she said.
Most likely, lawmakers would appropriate start-up funding
from the state budget. Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox
presented the proposal along with Raimondo.
The plan would create a new Municipal Road and Bridge
Revolving Fund to be administered by the water agency. Once the
new fund is active, it would be self-sustaining as cities pay
back the loans with interest, she said.
Details of the size of the program and how much it would
loan out annually were still being hashed out.
Many of Rhode Island's more urban areas - East Providence,
Woonsocket and North Providence, to name a few - are struggling
financially. With lower credit ratings, they must pay higher
interest rates when funding capital improvements.
"Their bond ratings and overall fiscal situations make it
extremely difficult and expensive to access the bond market,"
Raimondo said. "This is a tool for municipalities to get a
discount on their borrowing."
For example, Providence, the state capital, avoided
bankruptcy last year and has brought what was a $110 million
structural budget gap in 2011 down to $4 million.
The city is rated Baa1 by Moody's Investors Service. Such
triple-B rated issuers could save an estimated $1.2 million for
every $10 million they would borrow through the new revolving
fund rather than through the markets, according to the proposal.
Raimondo, a Democrat who spearheaded sweeping pension reform
last year, is expected to run for governor against current
Governor Lincoln Chafee, a political independent who is up for
re-election in 2014. Both houses of the state's General Assembly
are led by Democrats.
To become law the bill will must be approved by the Rhode
Island General Assembly and signed by Chafee. The governor needs
more details before deciding whether to support the proposal, a
The Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency has about $450
million of revenue bond debt outstanding.