The RI Convention Center — A Cautionary Tale

It has been evident from the beginning that opposition to the new stadium project has united people across the political spectrum; small government conservatives and progressive liberals have found much common ground in their objections to this boondoggle. The ProJo coverage, as well as the comprehensive studies from sports economist Victor Matheson, a professor at Holy Cross in Worcester, have told us all we really need to know . . . about the stadium.

Because through it all there have also been references to James Skeffington’s role in fashioning the (also-unfavorable-to-taxpayers) Rhode Island Convention Center scheme, the significance of which I did not quite grasp.

So I would like to thank Republican state representative Patricia Morgan from West Warwick for shedding much needed light on this ongoing outrage in Friday’s Providence Journal, “Convention Center drains taxpayers.”

Taxpayers have been picking up the tab for the Rhode Island Convention Center since its inception. Proponents at that time assured Rhode Islanders that the facility would “not cost taxpayers a dime.” Well, unfortunately, it costs over $20 million a year. To date, taxpayers have been forced to spend over $450 million. By the time the debt is paid off, costs will exceed $780 million.

In an earlier profile, Ted Nesi at WPRI elaborated on how Skeffington has created something of a cottage industry of wringing money out of the taxpayers without getting voter approval.

Skeffington came up with a solution: moral-obligation bonds, a type of debt that quasi-public government agencies can issue without voter approval, which had been pioneered in New York. He wrote the legislation that created both Rhode Island Housing and what later became the Rhode Island Commerce Corp.; the latter agency used that power to lure Curt Schilling’s doomed 38 Studios to Rhode Island, costing taxpayers $90 million when the company went bust. In the 1980s, Skeffington was a driving force behind the debt-funded state convention center project, as well.

Check out Ted Nesi’s illuminating profile of this odious man (2.24.15).

And don’t forget to go to the Stadium Forum on Monday, May 18, at 6:30pm at Hope High School!

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