PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Gov. Gina Raimondo cited Rhode Island’s improving economy and employment picture as she made the case for continued investments in job training, economic development incentives and education during her annual State of the State address before a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday.
Here are some of the issues she addressed:
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Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was among the worst in the country for years but has now fallen to 4.3 percent as of November, the most recent number available. It now ranks close to the middle of the pack.
Raimondo highlighted that improvement and tied it to her economic development initiatives, such as efforts to help small business through a loan program and work to lure companies from out of state with tax incentives and job training programs.
“Our progress didn’t just happen. It wasn’t an accident. And it wouldn’t have happened if we kept doing things the same old way,” Raimondo said. “We’ve come a long way, but we’re only in about the third inning of our economic comeback. So tonight, I say: Let’s keep going.”
Raimondo said she wanted a “once-in-a-generation investment to fix our schools” and called for a $1 billion investment in school construction over the next five years. Her proposal would have the state kick in $650 million of that, with a $250 million bond and $400 million in general revenue appropriations, according to her office. The remaining $350 million would come from cities and towns, her office said.
She pointed to last week, when several schools had to close because of burst pipes during a stretch of bitter cold.
“All across Rhode Island, there are teachers, we’ve all seen it, teachers putting trash bins in the middle of the classroom to collect water dripping from leaky ceilings,” she said. “Teachers and students going home sick because of mold. Rhode Island school buildings get a failing grade. It’s just not acceptable.”
LINE ITEM VETO
Raimondo renewed a push to put the line item veto on the ballot in November, to let voters decide whether to change the constitution to allow it. The power would let the governor veto individual items in the budget without having to veto the entire bill.
“Forty-four other states, including Massachusetts, already have it,” she said. “And they use it to eliminate waste and give taxpayers confidence in their government. Rhode Islanders deserve the same thing.”
Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello sounded a cautious note after the speech, and said a commission formed to study the issue was expected to start its work soon.
“It’s not a game changer, it does shift power though. That could be good. That could be bad,” he said of the proposal.
Rhode Island continues to grapple with the effects of the deadly opioid crisis. Raimondo highlighted the state’s decline in opioid deaths while also talking about the importance of keeping the issue a top priority. She proposed a new job training program for people in recovery.
Raimondo delivered her fourth State of the State address against a backdrop of an increasingly crowded race for governor. She is expected to run for a second term, although she has not officially announced. On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan are vying for their party’s nomination, while former GOP lawmaker Joe Trillo is running as an independent.
Meanwhile, one-term former Gov. Lincoln Chafee is seriously mulling a run. Chafee was a Republican senator, won the governor’s seat as an independent in 2010 and then became a Democrat in office before deciding not to run again. Chafee has said that if he ran it would be as a Democrat.
Morgan said in a response released before Raimondo’s speech that her party wants to address three challenges to the state’s economy: public corruption, a hostile business climate and poor educational outcomes. Among the legislation she said the Republican caucus plans to introduce are bills creating an office of independent inspector general and allowing the governor a line item veto.