Carol Anne Costa: What is Infrastructure? It’s Personal

Thursday, May 21, 2015


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Seth Magaziner

Every time I drive across a creaky old bridge, over a pothole laden stretch of road or past a deteriorating school the first word that never comes to mind is “infrastructure”. Rather, I usually look down through the grates, as my car shimmies and think, OMG!  In the words of Chris Mathews,” what does that word even mean?”  I agree with Mr. Mathews, as the term has been hijacked to an impersonal and bureaucratic sounding way to describe the erosion of a once state-of –the-art nation. But, as any New England driver, or passenger for that matter knows, the pothole that knocked the front axle of your vehicle into next week is costly, dangerous and very personal.   So are the aging and degenerating schools in which our tech savvy kids are learning, many times in an atmosphere straight out of “Dangerous Minds”. Antiquated public buildings in which the taxpayers traverse, do business and utilize which have been starved of capital improvement money creating, happenstance architecture pulled together with duct tape, bubble gum and shoestring are personal as well.  I think Mr. Mathews makes a valuable observation let’s stop whitewashing our problems behind a word and instead steward our public property with our time, talent and treasure, which are the buildings, roads, bridges that serve us all and ultimately lead to jobs and bolstering the middle class. It is time to make it personal and fix, rebuild, refit, retrofit and strengthen the spine of  Rhode Island.  But how, you ask.

The Office of the General Treasurer – Still Trailblazing

Enter our new, fresh faced, energetic General Treasurer, Seth Magaziner, and he is ready to make “infrastructure” personal. Like Governor Raimondo before him, he is using his office to provoke the greater good. His vision for our state’s future includes a new take on a successful program. It is the evolution of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency (CWFA). The plan developed by the Treasurer builds upon the success of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency (CWFA) which currently finances bridge, storm water and roadway projects.  The plan would expand the projects which can be funded and financed by adding new infrastructure improvement opportunities; in particular energy saving projects. The agency will be rebranded as The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank (RIIB).  This expansion in financing will entice new partners and grow the availability of financing to new constituencies, positively  impacting energy efficiency, job growth,  as well as rebuild, restore and retrofit buildings, roads and bridges.

His plan includes a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program to finance development and renewable energy projects on both the commercial and residential  side, and the bonus is the loans stay with the property, as they are a benefit to the building itself as well as each successor owner. Now that makes sense!  This is modeled after a program in Connecticut which partners with lending institutions and has created over 1200 jobs since 2011.  Rhode Island must adopt and mold this model, as it is how we can live and grow. We face tremendous challenges and innovative plans must be developed and engaged.    

The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank (RIIB), there is that word again; I may to have a conversation with Treasurer Seth on the name, ala Chris Mathews, “The Rhode Island Let’s Fix Up All of OUR Stuff and Put OUR People Back to Work and Save LOTS of Energy Bank.” Perhaps not…   Oh well, that is for another day!

 Did you know: Rhode Island lost 40,000 jobs during the recession and has only gained 25,000 jobs back during the meager recovery?  Of those lost jobs, 11,000 are in the construction trades? Rhode Island’s Unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation?  Rhode Island Energy costs are 73% higher on the commercial side and 46% higher on the residential side than the nation?  RI Municipalities spend 50 million dollars on electricity annually. That is staggering and those numbers are a clarion call to revisit how we use our energy, as well as how to conserve energy. And, the RIIB is path forward to restoring jobs, dramatically cutting energy costs, making our buildings, roads and bridges safe and in turn, bringing a huge return of investment to the RI economy and the middle class.  

What is the ROI?

In Rhode Island for every 1 million dollars spent on construction, 20 jobs are created. The PACE program would almost immediately finance 8 projects to the tune of 7 million dollars which equals 120 jobs. Additionally, the program could realize a 15% energy savings which could very quickly shave 1 million dollars of the books annually.  These are solid projections which translate to real savings in both money and energy, but more they represent people and jobs.  As a director of a public housing project I can say with some degree of confidence, this expansion in financing would help many housing agencies both nonprofit and for-profit in the quest to deliver energy savings and rehab to housing stock that was built many, many years ago. It just makes sense.

 So what is infrastructure anyway?  It is personal, it is the backbone of the nation and the state and Treasurer Magaziner is handing a life line to the public and private sector to infuse capital and start building and saving energy.  So, I am on record as in favor of “The Rhode Island Let’s Fix Up All of OUR Stuff and Put OUR People Back to Work and Save LOTS of Energy Bank.” Just my gut but, he is probably not going to like that name.  Let’s do this! 

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Carol Anne Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently the Executive Director of the Warren Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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