Providence Foundation voices concerns, asks for more time on city TSA reform

Updated at 2:01 p.m. on May 19, 2021.

PROVIDENCE – As the City Council prepares to take its second, and final, vote on more stringent requirements for developers whose projects receive city tax breaks, a local civic group representing prominent business leaders is asking lawmakers to take a step back.

The Providence Foundation in a press release on Tuesday outlined a host of concerns with the proposed Tax Stabilization Investment Act, calling for further consideration of how changes such as wage and apprenticeship requirements and expanded council review might impede development and the benefits projects bring to the city.

Cliff Wood, the foundation’s executive director, described the public statement as a last-ditch effort after previous negotiation attempts proved unsuccessful.

The council had its initial vote approving a compromise version of the ordinance earlier this month, though a second vote is required and the proposal can be amended at the second and final passage.

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The original policy, introduced by former council President Sabina A. Matos, aims to streamline and standardize the process by which the city gives tax breaks to major development projects, setting new or more stringent standards for wages, apprenticeship program participation and use of women and minority-owned contractors. It also expands the council’s purview of these agreements, requiring its review and approval of all deals except for the first five projects over $50 million in the I-195 Redevelopment and Capital Center districts.

After languishing in committee for several months, during which time Wood said his organization shared its concerns through written testimony and informal conversations, the proposal was, in his view, “fast-tracked” with a single, “cursory” public hearing.

“We were at the dinner table, mid-meal, sitting there talking, and then we weren’t,” Wood said in an interview with PBN on Wednesday.

That council leadership changed – with Matos resigning to become lieutenant governor and Councilman John J. Igliozzi Jr. assuming the council president role – made communication more difficult, Wood said.

Igliozzi in an interview on Wednesday dismissed Wood’s concerns, saying he had personally invited members of the business community, including the foundation, to weigh in during the nearly year-long review of the proposed changes. Until last week, he heard nothing from them. “They chose not to come forward…until the last second,” he said.

Wood also sent a letter to the City Council on May 14 reiterating his concerns with the ordinance and asking for a meeting to “discuss and resolve these issues” ahead of the second council vote slated for Thursday.

As of Wednesday, he had heard back from one council member, Councilwoman Rachel Miller, but not had the meeting he’d requested. 

Miller in an emailed response to inquiries for comment said the city had already made changes based on concerns from the business community, such as excluding smaller-dollar projects from the wage requirements. 

“We are unlikely to see eye to eye on every matter related to workers’ rights, and it is not unusual for there to be opposition in the business community to measures that seek to improve conditions for workers,” she wrote.

While Wood framed the changes he was looking for as “tweaks,” a red-lined version of the ordinance sent to the council with his letter strikes major components of the proposal, including apprenticeships and wage requirements for construction and post-construction jobs and the expanded council review.

Wood said he was willing to compromise, and that this alternate proposal was simply a starting point from which to negotiate.

“All we are asking for is a couple weeks where we can tweak around the edges in a way that doesn’t impede the goals of this investment,” he said.

Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, which helped draft the proposed policy, countered that the foundation’s proposed changes “gutted” the ordinance of all of the most important aspects.

Sabitoni called the foundation’s public statement “disappointing and disrespectful” and described it as an 11th-hour request that should have come during the three years of discussion over TSA reforms.

I think that they never thought there would be the courage of the council to finally make the long overdue changes to TSA,” Sabitoni said. “Now, at the last minute, they’re trying to come in, ‘chicken little, the sky is falling, we need to talk.’ The time to talk has come and gone.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote for a second and final time on the ordinance at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Update: Adds paragraph nine to include comment from John J. Igliozzi Jr.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at