State of the State, or an infomercial?
Shakespeare famously said “All the World is a Stage.” This certainly has been the case with the showmanship-filled term of Governor Gina M. Raimondo.
Following her election, Rhode Islanders have been trying to figure out whether her various and sometimes complicated actions were an earnest effort at curing the state’s ills or an attempt at marketing her brand. On the surface, her public moves seemed theatrical. The apparent question from the “State of the State” speech is whether her redundant utterance, “Let’s Keep Going,” refers to an ongoing infomercial about Gina or a genuine effort to better our lot as Rhode Islanders.
Beyond the constitutional requirement of informing the House of Representatives the governor’s opinion of the State of the State, the annual speech has digressed into a political device. This is especially so in election years. The most conspicuous aspect of this speech was what was left out. With no mentions of the UHIP debacle, the pending Paw Sox Stadium project, the current and prospective large budget shortfalls and the total waste of money incurred by the infamous “Cooler and Warmer” campaign; the evidence of absurdity in the address was glaring.
Similarly, she took credit for “accomplishments” that she had little to do with. Such as the Speaker’s initiative that phases out the car tax or the nationally driven uptick in employment was also a picture she tried to paint on the canvas of others.
The day following the classically political speech, the governor presented her 9.37 billion dollar state budget. Contained within the budget are erroneous assumptions, bloated expenditures, ever-increasing operating costs and a surprising Democrat-defying adjustment to Medicaid.
So sadly once again, both the yearly evaluation of the state’s condition and the proposed budget are part fiction, part extraordinary hope, part sticking fingers in a dyke to restrain overflowing debt and part exaggerated items for a line list of future campaign mentions.
Expectedly, Raimondo’s political opponents in the upcoming election had some caustic criticisms about her words and her budget. While most citizens, who are used to the Ocean State government’s continuum of malaise, were simply unmoved and uninspired by yet another demonstration of banality.
What is doubtful is whether the people’s business will be effectuated in a dutiful manner. And that question should have rightfully been answered by both the State of the State speech and the budget proposal. It was not.
Governor Raimondo commenced her speech with the following: “I stand before you filled with optimism for the future.” Further, the governor claimed “Rhode Island is stronger than we’ve been in decades.”
The Ocean State has over 9 billion dollars in indebtedness, which translates to every man, woman and child bearing the burden of $8,700 in debt per-capita, how strong are we really? Besides having the third highest debt ratio in the nation, many within the state are struggling with stagnant wages and a descending quality of life.
Raimondo asserted “You can see it all around us: Cranes rising over Providence, Johnston and Kingston; construction crews fixing roads in every part of Rhode Island; and hope in the eyes of our friends and family who finally have a good, steady job.”
Well there are not many cranes statewide, and despite the fact that road construction has increased, many citizens are still angered that tolling was passed against their wishes and was not put to referendum.
Next the governor stated something quite perplexing: “We’ve made Rhode Island more business friendly: Our economy is the 18th best in America.” Where did Raimondo get that statistic? According to every business periodical available we are always rated in the bottom 10 states.
Also, as a small businessperson, I am confused how we are more business friendly. We still are the most regulated state with one of the highest business tax rates. We still have an over-stratified government with an astounding amount of public sector workers in comparison to other states of similar population. New and old businesses still deal with numerous, redundant agencies that nickel and dime them into profit eclipsing oblivion.
She also touted the CCRI free tuition program that has raised the ire of every parent who saved all their working lives to educate their kids. Not to mention all the former students who worked their way through CCRI while balancing incredible responsibilities. With no requirement to stay in the state after graduation and no means testing requirement, this particular type of largesse has angered a great many taxpayers.
Governor Raimondo also took credit for the six-year incremental phase out of the car tax. Everyone knows that House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello used this issue to narrowly defeat his opponent in District 15 in Cranston last election cycle. The car tax reduction is his baby, yet the governor took credit for it.
Raimondo also took credit for the improvement in the state’s unemployment rate. There is no question that in the last five years, due to the national economy trending upward, our jobs condition has improved. What Gina had to do with the creation of that economic benefit, I do not know.
The governor also touted her aggressive pursuit of bringing businesses into Rhode Island. Certainly an argument can be made that she and the Commerce Department’s efforts have brought in some businesses. However, when we taxpayers have to pay twenty grand per employee in tax credits to bring businesses into the capital city, as recently occurred; one would have to question the strategy.
Rightfully, the governor addressed the dilapidated condition of our public schools. She said, “Together with our cities and towns, let’s commit to investing one billion over the next five years to fix the schools.” Thus begging the question, where are we going to get the funding? State Treasurer Seth Magaziner has expressed that enough bonded debt will sunset over the next decade to justify borrowing more money to repair the schools.
As was aforementioned in this editorial, our debt is preposterously high. One would think we could cut a couple of percentage points of our ridiculously outsized budget to give our kids a decent place to learn without increasing our legacy of debt.
Incidentally, what was not mentioned were the failures of the governor’s term in office. The ongoing horror of the UHIP computer system is still unresolved. Prudence would dictate scrapping the woebegone system at this point. The governor has refused to do so and therefore admit defeat. The Paw Sox Stadium proposal, which morally demands voter referendum, was not commented upon. Lastly, the dark horizon which threatens all of us – our current and future budget shortfalls – was strangely not spoken about. Avoiding these important realities in the State of the State seems cunning, politically self-serving, and willfully blind.
Our elected officials were speculative about the governor’s message. Speaker Mattiello questioned the idea of counting on revenue from sports betting, which is waiting legitimacy from a federal court decision, as recklessly presumptuous. He said “I’m not comfortable that money is booked in the budget requiring law changes without an alternative.” House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a competitor for the governor’s chair, critiqued the governor’s budget. “There’s desperation that I see in these numbers.”
Former Warwick Representative Joe Trillo and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung were both extremely critical of the sincerity of the address and of the feasibility of the governor’s proposed budget. They are also competitors for the crown.
Surprisingly, the governor has proposed instituting co-pays for the first time ever for Rhode Island’s Medicaid recipients. This astonishing move is counterintuitive to the national Progressive-Democrat talking points.
However, as per her usual Democrat sensibilities, the governor made incongruous assertions about offshore oil drilling, the Me-Too movement, national poverty, and DACA.
Also skillfully inserted for humanizing effect, the governor talked about her family and an anecdote about another particular Rhode Island family. The theme she attempted to convey was how a love for “Rhode Island” was an eternal and unbreakable love. These passages sounded like a moral/romantic lessen from a corny 1950s sitcom.
All in all, the State of the State address embellished and accentuated the positive and ignored the negative. But to omit the pressing problems of our state and pretend everything is coming up roses is ridiculous. One thing is undeniable: this is the first speech of Raimondo’s campaign for reelection. She delivered it well. She is well financed and she is well marketed. Despite the theatrics and crucial issues not mentioned, Raimondo will be tough to beat in November. Perhaps the competing actors, Fung, Trillo and Morgan, can put on a better show.