Gov. Raimondo speech outlines education and economic goals
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Gov. Gina Raimondo used her annual State of the State address to make the case for investments in job training and education before a joint session of the General Assembly Tuesday.
Raimondo wants to spend an additional $30 million on K-12 education, expand the state’s free tuition program, offer more apprenticeships and raise the minimum wage.
The Democratic governor will unveil her budget proposal Thursday.
She said the state is stronger than it was four years ago when she first took office, but there’s much more to do to ensure every resident can get a good job, every child can go to an excellent public school and no one who works full time lives in poverty.
Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said after that he likes the initiatives Raimondo described, particularly about job training and education, but he’ll need to see where she’s taking money from to fund any new programs.
“It’s a matter of priorities,” he said.
Raimondo said recently she’ll reluctantly propose legalizing recreational marijuana, now that Massachusetts has and Connecticut’s governor supports it. She didn’t discuss that in her speech.
Here are some of the issues she addressed:
Raimondo said her budget proposal seeks to guarantee job training and apprenticeships for thousands more residents. She wants to double the number of small business loans awarded. Her fiscal 2020 budget proposal allocates about $750,000 for that loan fund, which has helped 75 small businesses over the past four years.
Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was among the worst in the country for years. It has been below 4 percent recently.
“Let’s make the decisions that will sustain our economic progress and build an economy that’s strong,” she said.
Recently-released standardized test scores showed Rhode Island students lagging behind their peers in Massachusetts, which Raimondo said isn’t acceptable. She announced an additional $30 million in school funding — the single largest increase of any part of the state budget. She wants to spend $972.6 million for K-12 education, up from $942.7 million in fiscal 2019.
Raimondo also pledged to make the pre-kindergarten program available to every child. Every child should have “a shot at a bright future,” regardless of their zip code or background, she said.
Raimondo announced that she wants to expand the state’s free tuition program so the last two years of a four-year degree will be free at Rhode Island College.
In Raimondo’s first term, the state launched a free tuition program at another public college, the Community College of Rhode Island.
Raimondo said too many Rhode Island College students can’t juggle their classes and work to pay tuition. The expansion is estimated to cost $3.3 million, which Raimondo said is a low-cost, high-impact investment.
She wants to bring the program to the University of Rhode Island as well, but isn’t proposing it this year.
The hourly minimum wage in Rhode Island increased from $10.10 to $10.50 on Jan. 1. Raimondo is proposing to increase it to $11.10 to keep up with neighboring states and put Rhode Island on the path to a $15 minimum wage.
In Massachusetts, the minimum wage increased from $11 to $12 an hour on Jan 1. It will go up in annual increments until it reaches $15 in 2023.
Raimondo said Rhode Island needs to do more to “propel the working poor into the middle class.”
Raimondo once again called for a ban on assault weapons statewide and a ban on guns in schools. She plans to submit a package of gun safety reforms later this month.
Raimondo also wants the state to pass legislation to codify the protections that currently exist through the federal Affordable Care Act, and to codify women’s access to reproductive health care.
The state will also launch a new initiative in schools this year to address mental health using a federal grant, she said. Raimondo’s budget proposal includes about $600,000 in state funding for mental health training for teachers. She said her budget proposal preserves investments to end the opioid crisis.
“We can profoundly shape and strengthen the state we pass down to our children,” Raimondo concluded.
House Minority Leader Blake Filippi agreed the state’s education system needs to be fixed, calling it the top priority. He said there must be more responsibility at the local level and stressed the importance of accountability.
To improve the economy, he said the state must address “its hostile business climate,” stop giving large tax breaks to big corporations and rein in the state budget. The governor should have line-item veto power to cut spending, and the state should establish an inspector general’s office to root out waste, fraud and abuse.