After being announced this weekend, Governor Gina Raimondo spent the week continuing to promote her free tuition proposal, Rhode Island's Promise, at Monday's Martin Luther King Breakfast, Tuesday's State of the State address and Wednesday's
After being announced this weekend, Governor Gina Raimondo spent the week continuing to promote her free tuition proposal, Rhode Island’s Promise, at Monday’s Martin Luther King Breakfast, Tuesday’s State of the State address and Wednesday’s rally at Cranston High School East. The governor is scheduled to speak at a Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership event at Amgen today where she is likely to speak about the proposal again.
Rhode Island can afford this initiative thanks to revenues that came out of the “tough choices we’ve made in recent years and the success of our economic development efforts,” the governor said in her State of the State Address. At a rally for her free tuition plan at Cranston East on Wednesday, her confidence in the state’s ability to afford the proposal had not wavered.
“I know the state can afford it,” she told reporters. When asked if taxpayers would see “anything crazy,” she said, “absolutely not.”
“This is affordable, it’s smart, it’s an investment, and we have the money. We just have to decide if we’re up for it, and I think we are,” she said.
She continued to push that proposal, and many other actions she saw as successes, during Tuesday’s State of the State address.
Jobs were a big point for Raimondo – she said Rhode Islanders have more motivation to work than ever, and that she wants to “tap into” that drive by rebuilding and reinventing the manufacturing industry. She also cited GE, Johnson & Johnson, AT Cross, Virgin Pulse, and Electric Boat as businesses that chose to move to or expand in the state, adding to economic and workforce development.
After declaring that most state retirees will get a cost of living increase and that income taxes seniors pay on Social Security were lowered, Raimondo said the next step would be to cut the car tax by at least 30 percent. That proposal notably differed from that of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who has consistently said he wants to phase out and eliminate the tax entirely over the course of five years.
“There is plenty of room for compromise and I’ll work with anybody,” she said, peering in Mattiello’s direction. “I’m sure we’ll have a spirited debate,” she added with a smile, prompting some laughs from those on the floor.
After the address, Mattiello said he didn’t feel 30 percent was enough, but that there will be hearings and more input sought before the House collaborates with the Senate and the governor on the issue.
“I certainly appreciate the governor’s move in the right direction. I’m not sure if it will be enough to satisfy the citizens of the state,” he said. “I intend on going far enough to satisfy the citizens, and I believe that’s full repeal.”
The governor elaborated on the difference Wednesday.
“I haven’t seen a plan from the speaker, so to be fair to him, I think we have to wait and let some details come out,” she said. “He’s said he wants to eliminate [the car tax]. I haven’t seen a plan which would show where we would get $200 million and do that in a responsible way.”
However, Raimondo recognized the shared belief between her and the speaker that Rhode Islanders want car tax relief and said she looked forward to working with the legislature on determining what the state can do and afford.
Raimondo also used the State of the State address to lay out other priorities and hint at aspects of the budget. She advocated for “common sense” paid sick leave laws like those of neighboring New England states and said her budget will raise the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour. Warwick Senator Jeanine Calkin, who has said raising the minimum wage is one of her priorities, thought this was a good step.
“I’m happy to see the governor come out in support of raising wages for those who are struggling right now to make ends meet,” she said. “I think we should push a little stronger in that regard and try to get to $15 an hour by 2022.”
The governor also referenced the opioid crisis, saying her budget will request more funding for treatment, prevention, and supporting recovery housing for those struggling with addiction.
In keeping with her plugging of the proposal, Raimondo dedicated a chunk of her address to Rhode Island’s Promise, which would guarantee two free years of college to Rhode Island students who graduate on time from the Community College of Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island College. She promised that the state can afford the proposal – in fact, it can’t afford not to, she said, because fewer than half of Rhode Islanders have the post-high school degrees or credentials that are essential in helping them obtain many of the jobs being created in the state today.
Raimondo did address some challenges, like the condition of roads and bridges, that the state has faced but was quick to note that she had solutions.
“It’s no secret that our roads and bridges are some of the worst in the country,” she said, adding that RhodeWorks is making improvements to highways.
In a pivot back to the positives, Raimondo said the state was strong not only because of business and economic growth but because of its inclusiveness as well.
“There’s a place here no matter your race, your creed, your gender, where you’re from or who you love,” she said. “So, let’s come together as a community. Let’s dig deep to find the hope and the resilience and the faith and the love that’s going to allow us to keep making Rhode Island stronger.”
Despite Raimondo’s mostly glowing address, Minority Leader Patricia Morgan had other ideas about Rhode Island’s current state. Flanked by fellow Republicans, she delivered her party’s response that pushed back on the governor’s “headline grabbing announcements” and called Rhode Island’s government one that “makes lives harder, takes too much, wastes too much, and refuses to be held accountable to the people who pay the bill.”
Morgan lamented that “Too many report they are barely managing to keep up with increasing bills, and, quite disturbingly, they are unable to save for their children’s future and their retirement.” She then went on to needle Raimondo on 38 Studios, issues with computer programs at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and problems with the UHIP benefits system.
On a more unified note, Morgan said Republicans supported the speaker in eliminating the car tax, but said the relief “must come from enabling municipalities to lower their expenses” or else the tax would return.
Despite the governor’s insistence that it’s affordable, Morgan also knocked her on Rhode Island’s Promise, calling it “another entitlement program” that’s not affordable. Other lawmakers were more open to the idea, but also had some reservations about whether the state could take on the costs (which is $10 million in fiscal year 2018, $13 million in fiscal year 2019, $18 million in fiscal year 2020, and then $30 million annually as of fiscal year 2021).
"I would love to see all students attend state schools for free, but at the end of the day someone needs to balance the checkbook and prove that the state really can execute on this. What we can't afford is another promise that can't be kept," Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said in a statement released on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Warwick Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson said she was hoping more details on funding the free tuition would be shared during the address, and that she looks forward to see whatever is forthcoming. Congressman Jim Langevin agreed that it was important to wait on more details, but said he was excited about the proposal nonetheless.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, a member of the Community College of Rhode Island Foundation Board of Directors, said any time the number of people going to college can be bolstered bolster is a good thing. He was eager about the impact the proposal could have on the college and awaits further information from the governor’s budget.
“Understanding that some will question where the funding will come from, I think we need to see the details of the budget that will be presented [Thursday],” Avedisian said in an email on Wednesday. “But from all of the discussions that I have had with the governor, I believe that the City of Warwick will not lose any state aid and that we will be well poised to take advantage of some of the new state incentives that are being offered.”
Raimondo’s budget, where costs are expected to be detailed, is set for release today.