Rhode Island Governor Makes Jobs Focus On Annual Address

By John Celock

Saying that she wants to focus on “skills that matter and jobs that pay,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) made economic development the centerpiece of her State of the State Address Tuesday night.

Raimondo laid out of series of initiatives that she said would help business grow in the state, ranging from new programs for innovation. Her proposals included a focus on education and skill development and a new infrastructure development program.

“Together we will rebuild this economy,” she said. “Together we will rebuild this economy one job at a time.”

Raimondo, who took office last year, alternated touting her from her first year in office while outlining her goals as she embarks on her second year. A former venture capitalist and state treasurer, Raimondo has made economic development the centerpiece of her administration, noting that the state’s unemployment rate has dropped more than any other state and 8000 jobs were developed last year.

“We might be a small state but that’s a big deal,” she said.

Among the economic development initiatives Raimondo laid out was to create what she said is turning the state into a “magnet for innovation and entrepreneurship.” As part of the plan, she proposed a bond initiative to build an innovation campus in the state, along with expanding the state’s research and development tax credit. She also said she wants to expand programs that would have the state help pay the student loans of graduates of Rhode Island colleges in science and engineering who stay in the state.

Raimondo’s focus on the innovation economy puts her in company with other New England governors, who have made it a focal point of their administrations. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has touted General Electric’s decision to relocate to Boston from Connecticut, while New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has made the innovation economy a centerpiece of her administration since taking office in 2013.

Raimondo said she wants to address what she called a skills gap in the state and promote more people seeking higher education and skills training. As part of the proposal, she said that her 2016 budget proposal will not include a tuition hike at state colleges.

Raimondo made the state’s public schools a focus of her address, saying she is proposing for changes to the state’s charter school financing program that would allow money to stay with the public school district that child started at, along with parts to go to the charter school. She said this would help the state’s public schools.

In addition to the school finance formula, Raimondo also said that she wants to invest another $50 million in rebuilding programs for the state’s public schools. She also called on lawmakers to give increased flexibility to teachers and principals and to require that school districts to post their budget numbers online.

“We already have the data so let’s post it so we can see how the money is being invested,” she said.

Raimondo also called on lawmakers to fund an infrastructure programs to rebuild the state’s roads and bridges, calling an important part of her economic development plans.

“Let’s reject the politics of procrastination and pass the roadwork bill. It is time to fix our roads and bridges,” she said. “Rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges is essential to attracting jobs. First class jobs go to where there is first class infrastructure.”

Raimondo focused part of her speech on the opioid drug crisis that has been sweeping New England. She said she wants to focus on treatment and addiction services and called on lawmakers to put funding into the program. The opioid crisis has become a focal point in neighboring states, including a focus by Hassan and state lawmakers in New Hampshire last month.

Raimondo said that she plans to continue her focus on economic development as she continues into her sophomore year as governor. Repeating a line that has become her mantra, she said she is willing to work hard to create jobs in the Ocean State.

“I’ll talk to anyone or go anywhere to get jobs in Rhode Island,” Raimondo told lawmakers.