PROVIDENCE — A top legislator in Rhode Island, Sen. William Jr. Conley Jr., is condemning the idea of letting the public vote on a proposal for the Pawtucket Red Sox stadium. Conley, D-East Providence, chairman of the Senate Finance Committe, issued a statement Saturday blasting the notion of a referendum.
Conley also represents Pawtucket. He said that resorting to a public vote because it’s a tough decision is “a betrayal of the fundamental principles of representative democracy.”
He was reacting to an interview that House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello gave to the Providence Journal last week, in which he said that he would not object to a stadium question on the November ballot. The speaker made a similar statement on the possibility of a referendum to WPRO radio in September. On Thursday, he said that he other House colleagues from “all over the state” were hearing from constituents that they wanted a say in the decision.
The current proposal, for an $83 million stadium, calls for a state investment of $23 million, plus $15 million from Pawtucket. As the Journal noted on Saturday, in 2015, Mattiello had not opposed moving the Triple A team to Providence, but he won re-election the next year by only 85 votes over an ardent foe of the Providence PawSox plan.
In changing his mind, the speaker told the newspaper that “I’ve heard from the citizens, and I got pushback” on the stadium subsidy. He characterized the ballpark proposal as something that was not an an essential economic initiative: “This is not essential.”
Conley’s committee approved a proposal on Tuesday providing subsidies to help fund the new stadium for the Boston Red Sox affiliate. Its current home, McCoy Stadium, was completed in 1946.
The proposal is set for a full vote in the Senate this week before going to the House of Representatives. Whether the House will act on the measure is up to Mattiello. House-Senate differences on this proposal appear to reflect continued friction between the leadership of the two bodies, which surfaced most visibly in the 2017 budget impasse over the phaseout of the car tax.
In addition to his legislative duties, Conley provides legal counsel to the Town of Westerly.