The candidates for the District 66 House seat that represents parts of Barrington and East Providence faced off Wednesday evening, Oct. 17, in a "candidates' forum" sponsored by the League of Women Voters RI in Barrington Town Hall.
That forum for the House candidates, one of four races on the election card, ended in a bit of dust-up between the incumbent, Democrat Joy Hearn, and her Republican challenger, Manfried "Fred" Diel, about the 38 Studios fiasco.
The confrontation occurred after a question about income tax deductions and government handouts that first went to the Eugene Saveory of East Providence, the Independent candidate in the race.
Hearn’s response to that question was jumped on by Diel, who brought up the infamous 38 Studios debacle in Rhode Island, which put taxpayers on the hook for $75 million.
“That started with Gov. Carcieri,” said Hearn. “He made the move to give $75 million to 38 Studios, not the General Assembly.”
“Did you vote for the bill?” asked Diel, referring to the Job Creation Guaranty Program that gave the Economic Development Corporation $125 million to dole out to private companies, including 38 Studios.
“I did not vote for 38 Studios,” Hearn said at the forum and, reportedly, at a separate League of Women Voters' forum at Riverside Congregational Church later Wednesday evening.
Hearn did vote for the legislation, though, she said on Thursday. But the bill did not include any mention of a specific company, such as 38 Studios.
“I voted for the program,” she said. “We were at the depths of the recession. The program was sold as money to go to companies to hire workers and expand the companies. Seed money. That was the vision of the bill.”
If a bill had come up on the floor to give that amount of money to one company, Hearn said, “it would never have passed.”
Diel still thinks Hearn should have known what was afoot because the original bill only asked for $50 million. That grew to $125 million with the money that eventually went to 38 Studios.
“Did she know what she was voting for?” asked Diel on Thursday. “She should have.”
Diel said he would never have voted for that type of handout or any bill that he had questions about.
The three District candidates were first on the program so they could leave and attend the forum in Riverside. They shared the Council Chamber dais in front of about 75 voters and other candidates on the same election card.
The General Assembly candidates got chances to answer or respond to the same six questions. The time they had to respond differed depending on if they answered first or responded and if they chose to use a "wild card" to get more time to respond.
Each candidate made opening and closing statements. They used those one-minute openings to present background or biographical information.
Hearn got the nod to answer the first question: Do you support casinos in Rhode Island?
“Yes, I do,” said Hearn. “It’s the state’s third largest provider of state budget funds.”
Diel responded by echoing Hearn. At this time, he said, the state has to support full-fledge casinos if it expects to compete against the future casinos in Massachusetts.
Would you alter pension obligations by cities and towns? Diel got this question first.
“We must uphold contracts with workers,” he said. “But I think we need to go further by giving options to towns.”
Saveory’s response was that he would support legislation that would control those dollars. Hearn used a wild card to say that at this time there are “no explicit solutions at the local level.”
Would they change the state’s affordable housing mandate that is such a hot button issue in Barrington?
“Economic conditions in 2004 were far different than they are now,” said Saveory. “I think we need to make a deal with banks on foreclosed homes that can be turned into affordable housing.”
Hearn said the legislature needs to review the 2004 legislation that set 10 percent quotas for each town “in light of the 2012 market conditions and then act.”
Diel used a wild card to say: “Local governments should have the right to determine their affordable housing needs.”
Do you support more money for public transportation?
“We need to expand RIPTA and offer more public transportation,” she said. “Many people cannot afford cards and that is there way to get to jobs.”
Diel said he supports RIPTA but would prefer an evaluation of its services before spending additional money.
Are you pro or con on legislative grants, which usually go to legislators' favored organizations?
“I’m against them,” said Diel. “It’s buying votes. I would not vote for anyone to give grants.”
Saveory said he, too, opposes legislative grants for special services. “They seem to go out right before election time,” he said.
“As long as they exist,” said Hearn, “I will use them for my constituents," which include organizations such as TAP-IN and the East Providence girls softball league.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing this program ended, though,” she said.