Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo used her latest State of the State address to paint an upbeat picture of the Ocean State.
With the November election drawing closer, Raimondo on Tuesday pointed to signs of progress -- and what she called a need to keep moving forward.
The Democratic governor pointed to how Rhode Island’s unemployment rate has dropped, T.F. Green Airport is booming, and public schools across the state are offering computer science classes.
Raimondo also called her job-creation plan is a success. She said Rhode Island was struggling economically before she took office in 2015. Raimondo says 22 companies have come to the state since then thanks to new tax incentives and job training programs. In the past, Raimondo said, those companies would go to other states.
"But because of our new approach, they’re in Rhode Island," she said to applause. "Those companies are on track over 2,000 Rhode Islanders at an average annual salary of over $70,000 a year."
Raimondo also called for investing $1 billion over five years to fix crumbling schools, starting with an initial $250 million proposal on the November ballot.
“I’m calling on all of us to take action," she said. "Let’s come together and make a once in a generation investment to fix our public schools."
There was a series of other proposals. Raimondo said she’ll call on lawmakers to give her a line-item veto. And she said she’ll back legislation requiring insurers cover addiction and mental health treatment the way they cover other conditions.
Republicans faulted the Democratic governor for not mentioning a $260 million state deficit or UHIP, the troubled IT system for administering human service benefits.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung rapped Raimondo for what he called a candy shop approach to economic development and for not talking about cutting spending
“Not a single cut was heard," Fung said. "A lot of rosy pictures, a lot of programs that are being doubled or even more added to our continuing deficit.”
In a statement, Fung said, "More than ever, Rhode Island needs a laser focused and competent chief executive who cares more about doing the job right in Warwick, than a next job in Washington. Sadly, Rhode Islanders will be left picking up the pieces - and price tag - for her arrogance and mismanagement. In every area of state government - we can do better."
Another GOP candidate for governor, Patricia Morgan, staged her own State of the State speech ahead of Raimondo’s address. Morgan pointed to how a third of Rhode Islanders rely on Medicaid, and she says too many retirees and college graduates leave the state.
“Our government is broken and we can only fix the problems of Rhode Island if we acknowledge them,” she said.
Morgan unveiled some policy initiatives, some of them from previous years, such as creating an office of inspector general to root out fraud and waste in state spending, and trying to curb the cost of property taxes in Rhode Island. "Rhode Islanders want to grow, work and tetire in our beloved Ocean State," she said. "Although we have seen
some improvement, it is too slow, too costly, and seemingly focused on insiders, instead of the common
But Statehouse Democrats gave the governor a warm reception, and her speech ran longer than usual, about 45 minutes.
Despite some signs of improvement in Rhode Island’s economy, Raimondo has struggled to hit a 50 percent approval rating in recent years. That’s why she could be facing a competitive re-election fight this November.
Back at the Statehouse, Raimondo’s State of the State speech included policy, but also the stories of some everyday people.
One involved Lisa Tortolani, a transplant from New Jersey who fell in love with a man from Burrillville. Raimondo silenced the House chamber at the end of her speech by describing how Lisa’s husband, Alan Tortolani, collapsed on a bike ride when he was 40 years old and died.
Raimondo said she didn’t know how Lisa could cope with such a crushing loss.
“Alan’s been gone for about nine months," the governor said. "Lisa can’t remember a single night when a friend or neighbor, someone from church, hasn’t brought dinner over for her and the kids. That’s who we are. That’s the state we love. And that’s what Rhode is all about.”
On Thursday, Raimondo will unveil her plan for closing the state's $260 million deficit.
This post has been updated.