Legislative Antidotes to RhodeMapRI

PROPERTY RIGHTS and MUNICIPAL SOVEREIGNTY ACT of 2015

The concepts of private property ownership and associated rights are considered core components of America’s free-enterprise system. It is also widely held that local government is the best government, as opposed to a one-size-fits all centralized planning approach. Preservation of each of these principles is vital to maintaining a thriving democracy in Rhode Island.

In recent weeks in the Rhode Island General Assembly there have been a number of bi-partisan legislative introductions and announcements in response to the passage of the controversial RhodeMapRI plan into the state’s official Guide Plan. While these legislative maneuvers would seek to free localities from being required to comply with provisions of RhodeMap RI, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends additional legislative fixes should also be considered to minimize the grave risks that RhodeMap RI poses to property owners and the sovereignty of local governments.

As an antidote to some of those risks, the Property Rights and Municipal Sovereignty Act of 2015 should include:

Financial Transparency: Require the RI Division of Planning and its RhodeMapRI consortium, to provide a complete, up to date listing of all revenue and expense transactions on its web site, by listing full details of every transaction, by date, by source, and by vendor, for all activities related to the development or implementation of the RhodeMap RI plan. As of January 2015, only partial financial records have been released. Such practices would bring the Division of Planning into keeping with the transparency practices in other executive-branch departments.

Protection from Eminent Domain: The RI Home and Business Protection Act of 2008 [RIGL 42-64.12] ostensibly was passed into law to limit potential eminent domain abuse in the Ocean State following the landmark Kelo v. City of New London U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Instead, the law appears to actually open the door for aggressive eminent domain utilization by city planners when there is a local economic development in place, such as the “growth centers” envisioned by the RhodeMap RI plan.

This Act should be amended as follows:

  • Rephrase the section discussing “plans” [42-64.12-7A] to eliminate any RhodeMap RI inspired growth center or other plan, and any state-inspired plan, not created and developed exclusively by the duly elected local officials of that town or created with the explicit intention that it would fulfill the plan requirement for eminent domain seizures.
  • Bar any and all potential eminent domain action that would transfer property from one private party to any other another private party. Eminent domain should be limited in practice, and should only be considered for public use, never to enrich any private party at the expense of another private party, even it could be argued that greater tax receipts could be garnered from the receiving private party.
  • Bar any “transfer of development rights” transactions that are not 100% voluntary between the two parties, or that may have resulted from any form of government coercion, regulation, or mandate, or as a result from any plan not exclusively developed by the municipality.

Constitutional Amendment to Preserve and Government Sovereignty: The amendment would bar any state or local funding and invalidate any law that would support the establishment of or the participation in any regional or statewide authority, such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority contemplated in the RhodeMap RI plan, that would have any power to implement law, to supersede local authority, to bring or encourage lawsuits, or to implement any official state or local planning provision, without the requirement to present its recommendations for a public vote to a duly elected body of state or local representatives.

Real Economic Development Planning: Rhode Island could benefit from a well-researched, comprehensive economic development plan that would lead to economic growth, without infringing on individual rights or local government sovereignty.

The 2013 law, enacted by H6069 and S0712 [RIGL 423-64.17-1], should be amended as follows:

  • Set specific economic goals to improve the state’s overall business and economic climate
  • Establish an independent Blue Ribbon Commission, appointed by the governor, composed solely of economic experts and business leaders, that would develop a plan to meet those objectives.
    • Bar the participation of any government employee, special interest group or individual from any organization that receives any public funding from serving on the Commission
    • The plan must be presented to the General Assembly for regular committee hearings, and must be approved by a vote of the entire General Assembly.
    • The Commission should be completely state funded, and must not be pre-required to adhere to any principles of any state or federal agency or any other organization.
    • The Commission must not be permitted to construe its scope so broadly that it is permitted to rewrite the policies of any state agency or locality or any other organization acting within its own range of authority.
    • Eliminate the requirement for the commission to adhere to prior economic development or any other statewide plan; however the Commission may choose to take these plans into consideration, at its sole discretion.

Defund Grow Smart RI: The state should not provide public funding to any advocacy group that advances a special interest agenda that in any way could be viewed as working against the best interests or individual rights of state or local taxpayers, such as Grow Smart RI, which received over $350,000 from Rhode Island taxpayers in the past five years.

Repeal the Benefit Corporation Law of 2013: The state should not specifically classify or reward businesses that adhere to any special interest agenda by creating a two-tiered tax system or by exempting such businesses from traditional stakeholder accountability.

Amend the statewide Affordable Housing Mandate [42-128-8.1(d)(1)]: Specify that the existing 10% affordable housing mandate that is currently required to be included in the comprehensive plans of each city and town must only consider affordable housing at a municipal-wide level, and never at a census block, neighborhood, or any otherwise defined sub-level, and must never include any other kind of demographic quota or threshold requirement.

  • Cities and towns should be barred from accepting federal grant funds, or any funds, that may require municipalities to adhere to affordable housing quota mandates at anything less than a municipal-wide level.
  • Municipal comprehensive plans, at the municipality’s sole discretion, should have self-authority to determine where future affordable housing units should be developed.
  • Cities and towns should be allowed to consider inclusion all forms of affordable housing in their calculations, regardless of their style, location, or funding sources, as solely determined by locally elected officials (ie, mobile homes and trailer parks). Homes that are affordable should be classified as ‘affordable housing’, without additional specifications.
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