Rhode Island leaders to focus on jobs, schools and budget
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Investing in job training programs, improving the state’s educational system and balancing the budget are among the top priorities for Rhode Island’s Democratic leaders in the upcoming legislative session.
Gov. Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio discussed their plans for the 2020 legislative session in interviews with The Associated Press. The new session begins Tuesday.
Raimondo said she continues to focus on economic development, job training and education, since “it’s all part of the same picture.”
Facing a roughly $200 million deficit for fiscal 2021, Raimondo said there likely isn’t room in the budget for new economic development initiatives, but she does want to continue investing in the state’s effective job training programs and encourage schools and businesses to work together on career and technical education. She also wants the state to continue offering more public pre-kindergarten slots.
The state needs to control Medicaid costs, Raimondo said, but she won’t cut eligibility. She proposed charging a fee to large companies whose employees are using Medicaid in 2019. That idea didn’t gain traction, and Raimondo said she won’t propose the same assessment again.
Mattiello said his top concern and priority is always the state budget— ensuring it’s a pro-jobs, pro-economy, balanced spending plan. Within it, he said he’ll prioritize continuing to phase out the car tax because residents need and deserve the tax relief.
The fourth year of the phase-out is expected to cost an additional $21 million, for a total of about $115 million to offset what municipalities would’ve collected in taxes. Raimondo and Ruggerio support phasing it out.
Mattiello said he’ll also look to provide more legislative oversight to rein in departmental overspending in the budget and ensure the state education department uses new resources and education reform legislation passed in 2019 to address curriculum issues, low test scores and other problems.
Ruggerio wants to see a shift at the education department so it’s more policy focused. He said he feels it’s currently too focused on regulations. He wants the Senate to provide advice and consent for education commissioners, which it currently does not do.
The Senate will also consider legislation to address rising costs of prescription drugs and look for ways to reduce barriers to building more housing in the state, Ruggerio added. Raimondo is exploring ways to create a permanent funding stream for affordable housing.
All three Democratic leaders said they expect to consider raising the state’s minimum wage, currently set at $10.50, to keep pace with other states.
They take different stances, however, on gun control and on potentially legalizing recreational marijuana.
Raimondo said she will try again to persuade the General Assembly to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and ban guns in schools, changes she views as essential for public safety. Similar proposals stalled during the last legislative session.
Mattiello and Ruggerio are not convinced the changes are necessary, though Ruggerio supports prohibiting 3D-printed guns and so-called “ ghost guns ” that are untraceable, easy to make and becoming more prevalent. Mattiello said he’ll look at legislation to help reduce response times for first responders if there’s an incident at a school.
Raimondo wants to legalize recreational marijuana to regulate it, while Ruggerio and Mattiello think there are too many unresolved issues.