2020 Election Profile: Scott Zambarano, RI State Senate District 31

Saturday, September 05, 2020

GoLocalProv News Team

Meet Scott Zambarano who is running for election in Senate District 31 (Warwick).

Read what he has to say about why he is running for office.

This is part of an ongoing series by GoLocal featuring each of the candidates for House and Senate.


1.  What do you think is the biggest political issue this campaign season in Rhode Island? 

I believe the state budget will be biggest issue because of the lack of revenue due to COVID-19.  In addition, at this point in time the state seems to be waiting for the federal government to solve its dilemma.  Rhode Island generally doesn’t have a revenue problem but always has a spending problem. This year we have both. Additionally, the local municipalities rely on money from the state and they are also in a conundrum.  Unfortunately, Rhode Island has continued to expand its budget with tax and fee increases always at the expense of the taxpayer.  This has to be the year that we take a more conservative approach on how we deal with state finances. Our citizens are hurting and can’t afford any increases.  I am a strong proponent of zero-based-budgeting.  We really need to do a deep dive into the dollars we spend.

2.  What do we need to do to improve Rhode Island’s economy?

Our state needs to create jobs to grow the economy.  Unfortunately, CNBC has us ranked dead last for business and we have hovered at or near the bottom for many years. We are also at or near the bottom of several other lists from worst state to retire to worst state for roads and bridges depending on which organization you look at.  Several factors have led to this.  Burdensome regulations, high taxes, high utility costs and poor infrastructure all have played a role in this. This can only be fixed by cutting excessive business regulations, eliminating significant amounts of red tape that small businesses deal with every day.  We must compete with other states to attract business here and we are not doing so.  Tolling trucks only added to the poor business environment.  Clearly the Democrats are never going to get it. As long as we continue to have low rankings businesses will not want to come here as we can’t adequately compete with other states that have a much better business environment.

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4 Democrats, 2 Republicans, vye for Senate District 31 seat


The race for the vacant Senate District 31 seat will be one of the most crowded during the Sept. 8 primary: It’s one of the few in which both the Democratic and Republican tickets will hold primaries to determine who will compete in the Nov. 3 general election for the seat.

Currently held by Democratic Sen. Erin Lynch Prata, who is not running for reelection in hopes of becoming a Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice, four Democrats and two Republicans are in the running for the seat that represents the majority of Warwick and a slice of Cranston.

Democrats address education, healthcare, economy in different ways

Warwick City Council President Steve Merolla is the endorsed Democratic candidate. He will face wealth and investment consultant Brian Dunckley, climate activist and teacher Kendra Anderson and real estate broker Michael Mita in the Sept. 8 Democratic primary. This is the first time all of the Democratic candidates besides Merolla have run for elective office.

Merolla said that he is the most qualified candidate because of his over 20 years of experience on the City Council. He said that he could easily transition his experience serving on the council to the state level.

“The similarities [between municipal government and state government] are that we deal with many of the same issues on the local level, but on the smaller scale,” Merolla said. “Warwick has a $333 million budget, the state has $8 billion. Some of the issues like environmental issues we dealt with here in Warwick, when we bought Westbay (Barton) Farm, that purchase was on the local level. Whereas when we purchased Rocky Point, that was a collaborative between the federal state and local. Here in Warwick I got a lot of good experience to be able to do that.”

Dunckley said his varied background makes him a standout. He was born and raised in Michigan, but moved to Rhode Island after college to work for a biotech startup to develop an artificial kidney. His background includes investments, science, startups, hiking and owning a small business, so he believes this gives him background on a variety of policy areas. Mita also addressed his business background as a reason for how he’d be unique from other candidates.

Anderson said her history of activism regarding the environment, education and labor make her a qualified candidate.

“I’ve been focused on the needs of our community for a long time in different aspects,” Anderson said. “Primarily addressing climate change, but besides that, I was not happy with our representation because I didn’t feel like there was a lot of connection to the community anymore. I want to be talking and listening to a resident on a regular basis, and not just during an election year.”

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RI Lawmakers split over mail ballots

Rhode Island state election officials are gearing up for a tidal wave of mail ballots this fall.

“The equipment, the envelopes, we are in a pandemic. There are shortages of all sorts of things. There are 49 other states that are also trying to do voting at home,” said Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

A fast running clock is why lawmakers in the House judiciary Tuesday debated changes for the Sept. 8 primary and Nov. 3 general election.

On the table, a bill (H7200) to help more voters cast a ballot by mail. Changes to the current law include: creating a centralized processing system, providing secure drop boxes at each city or town hall, and waiving the requirement to get the signature of a witness or notary.

Many who criticize mail voting say that’s a recipe for fraud. Gorbea disagrees.

“The real security around voting from home is not the witnessing or the notary, it’s the verification of the voter’s signature on the application by local election officials and the oath envelope by the state Board of Elections,” said Gorbea.

While the mail ballot changes have the support of Rhode Island’s Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello, it’s gotten a cold shoulder from Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

His spokesperson released a statement which said Ruggerio opposes the bill.

“Any Rhode Islander who wants a mail ballot can request one. Mailing an unsolicited ballot application and subsequent mail ballot to every Rhode Island voter would be an extraordinary expense during very difficult fiscal times. The process is inefficient, with more than 600,000 ballot applications unreturned during the Presidential Preference Primary, and more than 1,600 votes not counted. It is unnecessary and fiscally imprudent to take on this large expense when every voter who wants to vote by mail already has that option available to them,” said Greg Pare, communications director.

Gorbea told NBC 10 News that the tab for mail ballots and applications would be picked up by Uncle Sam.

“I wish the Senate president had called me up before making that statement, I would have explained to him that we actually received $3 million specifically for elections and COVID related expenses, so we have several million dollars that are available that we can’t really use for anything else,” said Gorbea.

A separate bill (H8102) allowing 20 days of early emergency voting was also heard by the judiciary committee on Tuesday.


New Data Shows RI’s Economy Is Collapsing in Key Sectors, While Small Biz Await Plan From Raimondo

New data shows that key sectors of Rhode Island’s economy are collapsing and dramatically trail the rest of New England and the country due to the impact of the coronavirus.

Rhode Island’s two largest sectors — healthcare and hospitality — are in free fall.

The arts and entertainment sector has been devasted across the country and in New England, but worse in Rhode Island.

And, the grocery section — one of the bright spots in the economy — is even down in Rhode Island.

The data was developed by Opportunity Insights, a collaborative effort by MIT and Harvard and Brown University researchers which looks at the impact of the coronavirus on multiple business sectors.

According to the numbers, Rhode Island is significantly underperforming the rest of the country.

GoLocalProv News Team

Monday, July 13, 2020

House GOP leader cites ’overpayments’ in proposed IGT deal

PROVIDENCE — While Governor Raimondo has put her stamp of approval on the latest version of the proposed no-bid, 20-year Lottery deal for IGT — and top legislative leaders have also endorsed it.

House Republican Leader Blake Filippi is questioning a potential $660 million in “overpayments.”

‘It’s arithmetic,” said Filippi of his conclusions on how much of a “premium” the state is paying, and would continue to pay, International Game Technology for a 1,100-job commitment.

Filippi is the lawyer, cattle farmer, and scion of the family that owns the Hotel Manisses on Block Island who heads the nine-member GOP bloc in the 75-member House.

He says his conclusions are based entirely on the findings of Christiansen Capital Advisors LLC, the independent consultant House leadership hired last year to analyze the proposed IGT deal.

Despite these findings, he said, he has been unable to convince House leaders to bring the Maine-based consultant to Tuesday’s House Finance hearing to provide potential counterpoints to IGT’s presentation.

“I think there are forces pushing for this contract to be inked,” Filippi said. “They are trying to push this thing through without a proper vetting.”

One of IGT’s biggest competitors in the gambling market, Scientific Games, sent lawmakers a memo promising a better deal for the state if it was allowed to competeto regain the instant ticket contract it lost in 2017.

On the flip side, several business owners sent the lawmakers a letter urging passage of the IGT legislation to protect “thousands of jobs” already here and position Rhode Island for growth.

“Facing a massive economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we need predictability to plan our [own] growth and manage our budgets more than we ever have before,” said the letter signed by executives at Pro Health Inc. in Providence, Electro Labs in Cranston, Millennium Consulting in South Kingstown, ATR Treehouse in Providence, Aid Maintenance Co. in Pawtucket and Corvus Technology Resources in Cranston.

Of the $45.2 million the Lottery paid IGT in the fiscal year that ended June 30, $18,270,303 was to lease the majority of the video-slots at the state-run Twin River casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.

Another $8,820,844 was for the “central monitoring system,” which is the brain that powers and keeps tabs on the machines.

The consultant questioned why Rhode Island continues to lease video-slots at all, at a percentage of gambling revenue, when the vast majority of slot machines in North America are purchased.

“The math behind this is simple,″ the report said. “In FY2019, Rhode Island casinos [paid] $272 and $277 per machine per day at Tiverton and Twin River. That is approximately $100,000 per machine per year.”

By way of comparison, “most slot machines or VLTs cost between $15,000 and $25,000 … have at least a five-year useful life. … Some remain on slot floors for 10 years or more. Thus, it is easy to see why … 90% of casino owners … chose to buy rather than lease.”

The House’s consultant also raised questions about the cost of the IGT-run central monitoring system: “Based upon our analysis of comparable jurisdictions, Rhode Island is paying considerably more than its peers.”

“We dug into the numbers,” Filippi told The Journal in advance of the House hearing. “It is staggering how much we are over-paying.”

He said the state could potentially buy and replace every one of 5,200 video slot machines every 10 years at a cost of $104 million, and $208 million over the 20-year contract, instead of leasing them for a potential $728 million “under the terms of the contract.”

By his calculations, that alone would save the state $520 million. He also deduced from the consultant’s findings that Rhode Island could save another $140 million over 20 years on the central monitoring system, for a total savings of $660 million.

Responding during a House Finance Committee hearing, Mark Furcolo, director of the Department of Revenue, said that option of buying the machines was not considered because the dollars required would be “very large.” (He also disputed the use of the term “lease,” to describe the percentage-of- revenue fee arrangement.)

Marc Crisafulli, a top Twin River executive, told the lawmakers he would worry about the annual machine replacement requirement sliding if the video-slots got caught in state budget-cutting.

The reworked bill still promises 1,100 jobs paying at least 150% of the state’s minimum wage, which is rising to $11.50 an hour in October, with an aggregate payroll equal to 250% of the minimum wage and a $6,400 penalty for every employee the company falls short of its employment requirement.

It also requires Twin River, as IGT’s new joint-venture partner, to add at least 30 “senior management” employees within 2 years.

The current number of IGT employees is unclear, but IGT Chairman Robert Vincent told The Journal that about 45 employees remain on furlough as the company emerges from COVID shutdown. Approximately 40 have been laid of “throughout the organization but generally in corporate support functions. As with most businesses, we are trying to be as efficient as possible.”

Providence Journal