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One Rhode Island state representative wants to pay cash to people willing to move there, as the state faces the prospect of losing half their congressional delegation after the next census and reapportionment process.
State Rep. Carlos Tobon (D) has introduced legislation that would give families $833.33 per month — up to $10,000 — to move to Rhode Island for a year. Those families would be counted in the 2020 census as Rhode Island residents.
The goal, Tobon said, is to attract enough residents to maintain Rhode Island's two seats in the House of Representatives at a time when most population projections show the state has not grown fast enough to warrant two seats.
Rhode Island's slow growth has put the state perilously close to losing a representative before. The 2010 census showed the state was just 52,481 residents away from shrinking to a single district.
"After the 2010 census, we knew that we were in trouble because we were very close to losing a congressional seat," Tobon said in an interview. "As we approach the 2020 census, I thought, well, we're coming down to the wire, and how can I structure something that can get attention?"
The Ocean State has grown far less rapidly than Sun Belt and Western states in the last decade, putting its second seat at risk again.
Population estimates vary throughout the decade, because of changing paces of migration, but the demographer Kimball Brace has found that in the best case scenario, Rhode Island would keep its second seat — by a margin of just 157 residents. In that best-case scenario, Rhode Island's 2nd District would be the 435th and final seat allocated under the formula the Census Bureau uses to dole out House seats.
In the worst case scenario, Brace has found, Rhode Island's second seat would represent the 440th seat in the House — and the state's delegation would shrink to a single seat for the first time since 1789.
To counter that possibility, Tobon has proposed giving cash or tax incentives to attract new residents. Families with more than three people would qualify for the cash payments or tax incentives, but only if they had a household income of $100,000 a year or more — money he said would offset the cost fronted by the state.
"I'm betting on 10,000 families of $100,000 [in household income] would be about a billion dollars of new money coming into the state," Tobon said.
Tobon's goal is to attract 30,000 new residents, at a cost of $100 million, to give the second district some breathing room. The decennial census determines how much money a state is allocated for federally-run programs ranging from law enforcement and homeland security to education and health care. And Tobon said spending now to save later is worth the investment.
"One hundred million dollars is a lot less expensive than essentially losing billions of dollars in aid," he said. "One hundred million is practically a downpayment to make sure the rest of the money keeps coming in."
Tobon said he expects the measure to come before the state House Finance Committee in late April or early May, after Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) outlines her budget request to state legislators.
It's not clear whether leadership will commit to bringing up such a provocative measure, one that would hand out state money to high-income households. But Tobon said his bill was meant to start a conversation — and that the clock is ticking before census takers begin their count in April 2020.
"I don't expect this is the way the bill is going to end," he said. "This is for everyone to weigh in on and make it better."
If Rhode Island were to lose a seat, it would likely set off a long-anticipated battle between the state's two members of Congress, one of whom would be out of a job. For years, Ocean State political circles have gossiped about the potential matchup between Reps. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — Americans blame politicians, social media for spread of misinformation: poll Democrats urge federal agencies to address use of cryptocurrencies for ransomware payments Biden signs bill to strengthen K-12 school cybersecurity MORE (D), first elected to Congress in 2000, and David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups Lawmakers question whether Amazon misled Congress Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products MORE (D), the former mayor of Providence first elected in 2010.