EDITORIAL

A billion ways to change the future of Rhode Island

Posted 7/21/21

What would you do with a billion dollars? Although many of us have probably contemplated the possibilities that would accompany such a sum of money - the hard reality is that most of us probably don't fully realize just how much money a billion dollars

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EDITORIAL

A billion ways to change the future of Rhode Island

Posted

What would you do with a billion dollars?

Although many of us have probably contemplated the possibilities that would accompany such a sum of money – the hard reality is that most of us probably don’t fully realize just how much money a billion dollars really is. We simply lack appreciable context for such a gargantuan figure.

A good reference point can be obtained utilizing the Eiffel Tower, which has 1,665 steps up to its highest point (which isn’t available to the public, but just for the sake of argument, picture it is). If each step upwards got you one step closer to $1 billion – every individual step would need to be worth $600,600. With two steps, you’re already a millionaire. But it would take each and every one of those 1,665 to reach one billion dollars. Imagine earning a million dollars. Now do it one thousand times. That’s a billion.

But for all the wonder it may inspire within an individual with that kind of money – look at space-conquering Jeff Bezos, who sits atop the equivalent of 205 Eiffel Towers if you consider the metaphor above – for the states and communities receiving money through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), it might be inspiring a bit more anxiety than excitement at the moment.

This is because all parties involved – from politicians to local advocacy groups, to the nonprofit organizations and corporate lobbyists who all want a piece of this money – understand how this kind of investment opportunity will likely never happen again in any of our lifetimes. It’s an unprecedented opportunity, so the expectations become likewise unprecedented in what we hope to accomplish and reap from that opportunity.

This is why we’re happy to see The Rhode Island Foundation taking a leading role in trying to gather together a group of forward-thinking individuals, with the ability for public input outside of their steering committee, in order to figure out how Rhode Island should turn its $1 billion in ARPA money into an investment vehicle that will provide benefits for all within the state for decades to come.

While the actual recommendations to be brought up for discussion from the Foundation won’t be coming until after this summer, it is refreshing to see a nonprofit as prolific as the Rhode Island Foundation taking charge and emphasizing the importance of thinking big with this kind of money – not just using it as a means to plug short-term holes in pandemic-ravaged budgets and calling it a day. It is even more encouraging to see that they have assembled a team of diverse individuals who have concepts such as improving equity, sustainability and creating prolonged impact in the front of mind in their considerations.

The pandemic adversely affected individuals of low income and minority neighborhoods – it is only right that the money being provided by the federal government to try and help states recover from the damage incurred by COVID-19 would go towards bolstering those same demographics. A rising tide floats all boats, and lifting up those at the bottom who have suffered the worst will only serve to benefit our entire society by providing them a renewed opportunity to engage in our communities and economy.

Recent headlines and reactionary opinions have indicated that crime has gotten out of control in our communities across the nation. Well, we have a huge chunk of money coming available to possibly make some structural, long-term improvements regarding our affordable housing, early educational and mental health infrastructure moving forward. Investment in each of those areas would pay dividends down the line in providing more opportunity, addressing critical needs and, eventually, decreasing crime. Rather than looking at short-term, reactionary policies – such as increasing the number of police officers on street corners – ARPA money provides the perfect opportunity to think deeper about these real problems and make real, long-term changes.

The same logic can be applied towards all our major problems – whether it’s economic development in our cities, combating climate change or addressing our physical infrastructural deficiencies. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make our state better – and benefit everybody by doing so.

We hope that the Rhode Island Foundation’s efforts will make an impact on those who will ultimately control the purse strings of this money – in each community that receives it. Rhode Islanders deserve that level of thought and consideration.

RI, future, billion

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