Boosting Skills, Improving Business Climate Expected To Highlight Raimondo's Second Budget Proposal

Feb 1, 2016

Attracting business, boosting the skills of workers, and improving Rhode Island's business climate are expected to be among the focal points of Governor Gina Raimondo's second budget proposal.

The governor will unveil her spending plan at 7 pm Tuesday during the annual State of the State address

, delivered in the House chamber to a joint meeting of the General Assembly. 

Rhode Island Public Radio will carry the speech live, and feature analysis immediately afterward.

Raimondo is expected to highlight some positive economic news -- like declines in Rhode Island's unemployment rate over the last year, and Wexford Science & Technology's signing of a purchase and sale agreement for a planned life-sciences park in the I-195 District -- while maintaining her mantra about improving workers' skills and increasing middle-class jobs.

On the business climate, the governor may unveil a proposal to overhaul the state's unemployment insurance system. A spectrum of efforts to boost workforce skills is also anticipated.

Tweaks to the state's education funding formula are also expected, along with attempts to strengthen neighborhood schools and to boost the affordability of higher education.

On Monday, during an event at Smithfield High School, Raimondo offered an appetizer by unveiling plans to have the state pay for PSAT and SAT exams for all public high school students. With the PSAT costing $15, and the SAT up to $54, fewer than 60 percent of public high school students took the SAT in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the governor's office.

"This is about leveling the playing field and increasing access to opportunities to help Rhode Island's kids succeed," Raimondo said in a statement. "Providing these tests for free is about equity - this ensures that all students, regardless of economic circumstances, can use these tests to consider higher education opportunities. We need more students to be college and career ready. The SAT and PSAT set an appropriately high standard and are good tools to help close our skills gap."

Raimondo's second budget comes two weeks after the Brookings Institution offered a detailed diagnosis of Rhode Island's economic woes. The DC-based think tank called for improving the state's business climate while investing in promising sectors of the economy.

The budget passed by the General Assembly last June included most of the governor's proposed economic incentives, and her second spending plan is expected to call for additional funding.

The governor's budget also needs to close a deficit of about $50 million -- the lowest recent gap in the state's perennial battles with red ink. By comparison, Raimondo faced a deficit of $190 million last year in her first budget.

After being proposed by the governor, the budget goes through legislative hearings and a series of changes. Lawmakers usually approve the spending plan in June, ahead of the July 1 start of the 2017 fiscal year.

This week is significant for Raimondo for another reason than her budget proposal. A revised version of the governor's plan to use truck tolls to pay for bridge improvements -- first unveiled last May -- is slated to be considered by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, and by the House Finance Committee on Thursday. The revised plan reduces borrowing and the cost of tolls, although critics continue to argue that it would hurt businesses and be bad for consumers.