Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee didn’t love the idea of a new state executive office of commerce when it was first proposed in the wake of 38 Studios’ collapse in 2012.
Since state lawmakers enshrined the office in a set of economic-development reforms last summer, Chafee’s ambivalence about it has only appeared to grow. Now in his last state budget before leaving office, Chafee proposes pushing creation of the office back another six months – from February 1, 2015 to July 1, 2015.
At a recent meeting of the R.I. Commerce Corporation – the renamed agency that carries out state economic policy and would be folded into the new cabinet-level office – Chafee said the intent of delaying the change is to give his successor more time to plan for it.
“It’s just a realization, having been through it as a new governor, of all the responsibilities: having to put together a budget, put together a cabinet and get them confirmed,” said Chafee, who is not seeking re-election. “It is all happening in a short time frame, and I thought this would allow some breathing room while this complicated reorganization takes place.”
But along with buying more time for the next governor, Chafee acknowledges a desire to see the state’s economic-development system become a campaign issue in the upcoming election, which may then open a path to reversing the creation of a new office altogether.
“I always believe some of these decisions should get hashed out in the campaign process,” Chafee said. “Candidates get asked what they think and they should be held accountable for how they feel. If the voters agree with that position and that person gets elected, than they should have the opportunity to carry through with that.”
Campaign or no, there’s little indication General Assembly leaders, especially House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, are interested in delaying what many consider the most substantial policy response to the political and fiscal disaster of the 38 Studios loan guarantee.
In a statement emailed through spokesman Larry Berman, Fox pointed out that the start date for the Executive Office of Commerce had already been pushed back, from the first of this year to next February, at the request of the governor.
“The original House legislation … had an earlier effective date,” Fox said in the statement. “The legislation that was enacted with the 2015 date was already the result of a collaborative effort with the Senate and Gov. Chafee that was agreed upon by all parties. At this time, I am not inclined to make additional changes to the legislation.”