Raimondo pledges to improve education, housing, small-business environment

PROVIDENCE – Improving affordable housing and public education and addressing climate change are among the top priorities for Rhode Island in 2020, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said Tuesday, in an address that highlighted the state’s economic progress of the past several years.

In a speech to members of the General Assembly, Raimondo also said she would include in her upcoming budget proposal more money for tax relief, for renewable energy investment and job training for unemployed adults, among other priorities.

She is expected to release the budget on Jan. 16, as required by state law. The General Assembly would then review the spending plan for several months. The State of the State address is the sixth for Raimondo, now in her second term as governor.

The small-business climate will be improved, she said, by another cut in unemployment insurance taxes, the third of her administration. In another tax cut, she said she would continue the planned phase-out of the automobile excise tax.

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Through bond financing, she pledged to build more modern industrial sites across the state. Rhode Island lacks modern warehouse facilities, according to commercial real estate brokers.

In job training, Raimondo said she would expand state investment in the Real Jobs RI initiative, which trains adults for well-paying positions sought by existing industries.

She said she would advocate for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, which is lower than those of neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts.

On climate change, the Democratic governor touted the state’s experience in expanding development of offshore wind and said the industry soon would produce enough power to cover half of Rhode Island’s homes.

She will sign an executive order, Raimondo said, pledging that Rhode Island will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy by the end of the decade.

“If we want to ensure Rhode Island’s beauty is enjoyed for generations to come, we have to address climate change with urgency,” she said.

In education, Raimondo referenced the challenge of local schools in increasing achievement on standardized tests and said the state lags behind Massachusetts.

“Nowhere is our challenge more obvious than in our capital city,” she said. “Providence’s test scores last year were a call to action for all of us. The deeper we dig we see a system in crisis.”

Across the state, Raimondo said she would increase spending to support students and teachers in every community. She said an additional $30 million will be earmarked for this purpose, to include high-quality curricula and advanced courses in high school.

She also pledged to increase funding for pre-Kindergarten education and to make the existing Rhode Island Promise funds for college tuition a permanent feature. The program is set to expire at the end of 2020.

“Let’s make the Promise Scholarship permanent and cement affordable higher education and job training into the very foundation of our economy.”

In affordable housing, Raimondo said she would propose a housing bond, and for the first time in Rhode Island, a dedicated funding stream to build more housing. She did not identify the source in her remarks.

“Nearly every other state already has this,” she said. “Let’s get to work building more homes.”

House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, R-New Shoreham, delivered the Republican response to Raimondo’s address.

He said the GOP would support school choice and language academies for students focused on English proficiency.

He called for a new tax on universities and colleges related to their endowments, so they can better “share in the cost of educating the next generation of higher education learners.”

He also called for a $1,000 per year tax credit tied to student loan payments.

Filippi also cited longtime GOP priorities that include a line item veto for the governor, an independent office of inspector general and zero based-budgeting for state departments.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.

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