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Gov. McKee looks beyond COVID in State of the State speech

January 19, 2022 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — While the pandemic continues to dominate the conversation, Rhode Island’s governor said in his first-ever State of the State address Tuesday that it’s time to start looking to the future.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee laid out his administration’s legislative plans and budget priorities in the address to the General Assembly, and said a proposal is coming soon on how to use the bulk of the state’s $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief funds.

McKee, according to prepared remarks, said his forthcoming budget will be fiscally responsible and include no broad-based tax increases, while proposing investments in schools and affordable housing, expanding Medicaid to cover all kids, supporting small businesses and tackling climate change.

McKee, a former mayor, said that while the pandemic continues to pose a challenge, “the state of our state is resilient and full of opportunity,” according to the remarks.

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McKee took over as governor last March when Gina Raimondo assumed the role of U.S. commerce secretary in President Joe Biden’s administration. He’s expected to run for governor this year. He faces a crowded field that includes Rhode Island’s secretary of state and treasurer.

McKee highlighted a number of proposed budget investments Tuesday, among them prioritizing support for people who are homeless and building affordable housing, with a proposal to spend $250 million to create and preserve thousands of units of housing and transform blighted properties.

He also wants to invest $50 million to help people afford the down payment for a home.

McKee said all children should have access to health insurance through Medicaid, and he wants to extend the period new mothers are covered. He also wants to allow more families to use a program that subsidizes the cost of child care.

For schools, he’s proposing over $430 million for the construction of education facilities.

Supporting small businesses is also a priority, he said, and his budget will include a separate article to improve Rhode Island’s small business climate. The governor wants to spend more on business grants and forgiving student loan debt, reducing business taxes and supporting minority-owned businesses. During the pandemic, restaurants were allowed to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks with takeout food orders. McKee wants to let them do that permanently.

McKee’s budget proposal will include millions to confront climate change. He highlighted plans to create a statewide network of electric car charging stations and convert public transportation vehicles to electric. He wants to invest in the state’s “blue economy” by making the state a leader in ocean-related technologies, improving ports and investing in aquaculture, including seafood processing.

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Earlier this month, on the first day of the legislative session, the General Assembly approved spending roughly 10% of the state’s federal pandemic relief money.

McKee also thanked Rhode Island’s top public health official, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who has guided the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Her resignation was announced last week, with no reason given. McKee plans to use a committee of Rhode Island health professionals to lead the search for the interim and permanent health director.