Raimondo’s State of the State

Read Raimondo’s prepared remarks

Good evening. Thank you. Mr. Speaker, Senate President, members of the General
Assembly;
distinguished guests; my husband Andy, my son Tommy; and my fellow Rhode Islanders:
Tonight I stand before you filled with optimism for the future. Rhode Island is
stronger than we’ve been in decades: Four years ago, our unemployment rate was the
highest in America. Today, it’s in-line with the national average. The number
of people who filed for unemployment insurance last year is the lowest it’s been
in 50 years. Our economy has more jobs than at nearly any other time in our State’s
history.
We’ve cut our deficit in half. TF Green is booming. And we’re the first state in
America to teach computer science in every public school.
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.
We’ve made this progress together, and I want to thank everyone who’s been a part
of it: the legislature, mayors and town managers, and my team. Thank you for your
hard work and commitment to our state.
But of course, the real credit goes to the people of Rhode Island: People like Lisa
and Alan Tortolani.
LOVE FOR RHODE ISLAND
Alan grew up in Burrillville and went to school in Pawtucket. After college, he
fell in love with a girl from Jersey. (Which I can relate to since I’m a Rhode Island
girl who fell in love with a guy from Michigan.) It took a little while, but when
he was ready to start his company – ABCya – he convinced Lisa to move to Rhode Island.
He couldn’t imagine chasing his dream anywhere else.
Alan got started in the basement, balancing a kid on one knee and his laptop on
the other, while Lisa supported their young family teaching Italian. But when his
game Math Bingo hit #1 in the App Store, they knew it was time to move out of the
basement. ABCya started hiring programmers, designers and project managers from
all over Rhode Island.
When I met Alan, it was clear to me that he loved Rhode Island, but he didn’t shy
away from telling me that it sometimes it frustrated him. Our maze of regulations
drove him crazy, and it was sometimes too hard to find people with the right skills.
It seemed to him that the state was putting up barriers instead of clearing the
way for him to grow. That kind of thing drives me crazy, too.
I asked Alan to keep believing in Rhode Island, and I promised him that we were
going to work together to make things better. Alan kept going. It would have been
easier for him to get frustrated and let cynicism crush his dream. But he was proud
of his company and he wanted to grow it in Rhode Island. Last year, more than 120
million kids played a game on his site: Kids from Warwick and Westerly to Guatemala
and India.
Since 2015, we’ve come together to fix many of the things that frustrated Alan and
so many Rhode Islanders. We’ve cut over three thousand pages of regulations. We’ve
cut red tape. And we’ve cut taxes every single year.
LET’S KEEP GOING: A COMMITMENT TO CHANGE AND PROGRESS
Four years ago, it didn’t seem like we’d have so much to celebrate today. At that
time, our economy had run out of gas because our leaders hadn’t positioned us for
growth in the new economy. One out of four bridges in our state was crumbling and
unsafe, and we didn’t even have a plan to fix them. But worst of all, people were
losing their pride because they had been out of work for so long. And some people
felt like our state leaders weren’t listening, and they were losing confidence in
Rhode Island.
We came together four years ago and decided to chart a new course. We decided to
change the old way of doing things, so that we could do better by Rhode Islanders.
Our progress didn’t just happen. It wasn’t an accident. And it wouldn’t have happened
if we kept doing things the same old way. But we had a willingness to try a new
approach; a commitment to build a new economy, and not settle for anything less
for our kids and our future.
We’ve come a long way, but we’re only in about the third inning of our economic
comeback. So tonight, I say: Let’s keep going.
We’ve made Rhode Island more business friendly: Our economy is the 18th best in
America; Last year, we went from No. 50 to No. 23 in unemployment taxes; Four years
ago, the Gallup Jobs Index ranked our economy dead last. Today, we come in at Number
29. And we’re not stopping until we’re at the top of the list. Let’s keep going.
We’ve proven that you can grow the economy and protect the environment at the same
time: We’re the only state in America with an off-shore wind farm. We’re on track
to make our energy system 10 times cleaner by 2020. Since 2014, we’ve added more
than 5,000 green jobs – a 66 percent increase. Let’s keep going.
We’ve made record investments in education, and we’re committed to ensuring that
everyone has a shot to continue their education past high school: Today, there are
three times as many public pre-K classrooms as there were four years ago; We’ve
guaranteed all-day kindergarten for every child in Rhode Island; And more than
1,500 Rhode Islanders are getting a shot at a career because we’re the first state
on the East Coast that’s made community college tuition-free. But there’s so much
left to do. So let’s keep going.
Let’s continue to support our veterans: Last year, we opened a new Veterans Home
in Bristol; And last month, we launched a new online portal to better coordinate
the services that our Vets and their families have earned. To everyone who wears
– or has ever worn – our nation’s uniform, and to your families, we say thank you.
We’ve also been listening. We’ve listened to Rhode Islanders who felt like their
leaders weren’t doing enough to support them: We raised the minimum wage, and we’re
gonna do it again next year; We passed paid sick leave, because no Rhode Islander
should have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a sick child at home;
We’ve improved the quality of child care so parents can have peace of mind while
they’re at work. And we listened to seniors like my mom, who say it’s too hard
to live on a fixed income, and we cut the tax on their social security.
And we heard you. The car tax is probably the most hated tax in Rhode Island. So,
last year, we cut it.
The progress we’ve made together is undeniable, and it’s the result of the reforms
we’ve made together. So, let’s keep going with bold reforms. Let’s send a clear
and loud signal that we are willing to move beyond the old way of doing things.
Tonight, I’m asking the legislature to put the line item veto, on the ballot in
November, and let Rhode Islanders decide. It’s time. Forty-four other states,
including
Massachusetts, already have it. And they use it to eliminate waste and give taxpayers
confidence in their government. Rhode Islanders deserve the same thing.
LET’S KEEP GOING: RHODE ISLANDERS WHO INSPIRE
I know that every member of this chamber cares deeply about Rhode Island and works
hard for the people of our state. Tonight I’d like to share the stories of Rhode
Islanders who inspire us all to keep going. Rhode Islanders who give us confidence
that we’re on the right path. Rhode Islanders like Alisa Richardson. Her story gets
right to our core mission: to make sure every Rhode Islander can keep up and get
ahead, whether or not they have a college degree.
Job Training for all Rhode Islanders in the New Economy
I met Alisa at her daughter Elisabeth’s graduation from one of our job training
programs. Elisabeth had started college, but she didn’t finish. She still has
a mountain of loans, and they’re due every month. Because of the job training program,
though, she now has a good job at Guill Tool in West Warwick. Alisa’s son, James,
studied electronics at the Warwick Career and Tech Center. He’s now one of the
thousands of Rhode Islanders Electric Boat has hired in recent years. And her youngest
child, Katie, is a senior at Pilgrim High School, and she’s excited to go to college
next year. She’s planning to go to CCRI on a Rhode Island Promise scholarship.
Alisa and her kids are here tonight. Congratulations, you guys are doing great.
The reality is that 70 percent of jobs in Rhode Island require more training and
education than just a high school diploma, but they don’t all require a four-year
degree. It’s on us to make sure that every Rhode Islander has the job training
and education they need to get a good job.
Since 2015, we’ve completely revamped our approach to job training. Real Jobs Rhode
Island now gives Rhode Islanders in the middle of their career the new skills they
need in a changing economy. Real Jobs alone has trained and placed more than 2,000
Rhode Islanders into good, solid jobs.
We’ve also expanded more than two dozen career and tech programs in our high schools,
like the welding program at Coventry High School. Austin Ferrara enrolled in that
program last year. He graduated in June, and got his high school diploma and a
credential.
A week later, he started a job at Electric Boat. And if you ask him if he likes
his job as a welder, he’ll look you dead in the eye, filled with pride and tell
you: «I’ve got a real job.»
Tonight I’m proposing that we expand our job training initiatives and our technical
training in high schools.
A year ago, we opened the Westerly Higher Education Center which trains people for
jobs at local companies. It’s been an incredible success. In just one year, more
than 500 Rhode Islanders have earned a certificate to get a good job, and 345 of
them already started working at Electric Boat.
Let’s keep going. Let’s put the same kind of center in the Blackstone Valley. In
the weeks ahead, I’ll announce a new public-private partnership to establish the
Northern Rhode Island Higher Education Center which will provide hands-on training
and a path to a good job for Rhode Islanders without a college degree.
Small Business is Our Business
Small businesses have always been the engine of our economy. In fact, they employ
about half of our state’s labor force. That’s why we’ve made investments to help
small businesses.
A couple years ago, we announced 10,000 Small Businesses, a unique partnership
at CCRI that helps small business owners learn the skills they need to jump to the
next level. Since then, more than 100 companies have gone through the program.
These are local stores, restaurants, jewelry makers, and small food companies. These
are our neighbors and friends who put everything they have into their business.
Nearly every one of them has added jobs, including Evan Oliveira, a Navy veteran
from East Providence.
For years, he worked a desk job that he tolerated; but, on the side, he owned a
small cleaning business that he loved. His company was growing, and he finally built
up the courage to tell his family that he was going to quit the desk job to focus
full time on his company, Universal Cleaning. So, as you can imagine, Evan really
needed to make this work. He also needed some capital to grow, and banks wouldn’t
lend to him because he was too small. He applied for a loan through a new program
we started for small businesses in 2015. With that $10,000 loan, he was able to
buy the equipment he needed to support his new contracts. And since then, his business
has tripled.
Like every Rhode Islander I’ve ever met, Evan is determined to succeed. Rhode Island
small businesses are expanding because of these loans, and tonight I’m committing
to double the number of loans awarded by the end of this year.
The responsibility to support small business, though, can’t rest solely on state
government. It’s time to come together as a community and support one another.
We need our biggest employers to use their spending power to support our small
businesses.
Here’s an example: If our colleges, universities and hospitals shifted just two
percent of their contracts to Rhode Island companies, it could add more than $50
million to our economy and create hundreds of new jobs. This year, we’ll launch
«Supply RI» to make it easier for our biggest employers to buy from local companies
like Evan’s. Andy and I do as much local shopping as we can, and we hope our biggest
employers will do the same.
Most of our manufacturers are small businesses, too. For every Electric Boat, there
are dozens of smaller manufacturers like FarSounder in Warwick and Swissline Precision
in Cumberland. Last year, manufacturing companies created 1,500 new jobs. My dad
spent his career in manufacturing, and making a living making things gave him so
much pride.
Let’s bring that pride back. This year, I’m again calling on the legislature to
pass the Rhode Island Manufacturing Initiative. It’s a good plan that helps smaller
manufacturers buy new equipment and hire more people.
Protecting Our New Approach to Compete with Other States
Our first priority will always be to support businesses that are already here, but
if we’re going to be sure there’s a good job for everyone, we also need to recruit
new companies to Rhode Island. The good news is that for the first time in a long
time companies are moving here and expanding here, mostly because they want to
hire Rhode Islanders.
For decades, we just sat back and watched as Massachusetts rebuilt and thrived.
Boston and its suburbs flourished, while the mill buildings along 95 and the Blackstone
River stood vacant and crumbling. The resurgence in Massachusetts didn’t just happen.
It wasn’t an accident. They had a strategy and a plan to create jobs and put cranes
in the sky. They used job training investments and incentives to create thousands
of jobs in and around Boston.
Massachusetts, and nearly every other state in the northeast, still uses incentives.
And they’ve all been doing it for years. Until recently, though, our leaders didn’t
have a strategy; and because of that, Rhode Islanders got left behind. And the few
times our past leaders did take action, they put all their eggs in one basket or
chased special deals. Any way you slice it, Rhode Islanders got hurt.
So in 2015, we created a strategy combining job training and incentives that enables
us to compete and prevent the special deals of the past. The results are in. Our
new approach is working. In the last two years, we’ve recruited or expanded 22
companies. Twenty-two companies that would have gone somewhere else. Because of
our new approach, they’re here and on track to hire more than 2,000 Rhode Islanders
at an average salary of more than $70,000.
So, yes, our new approach is working. And if we go back to the old way of doing
things, we’ll put hard-working Rhode Islanders at risk. So, let’s keep going.
Rebuilding Rhode Island’s Roads
Let’s continue to fix our roads.
When our kids were younger, Andy and I would take them to soccer practice and drive
across the Newman Avenue Bridge in East Providence. That bridge made me so mad.
The Massachusetts side was in great shape: The road was smooth; the lanes were well
marked. But when we drove back into Rhode Island, you could literally feel exactly
where the state line was.
Since then, we made a commitment to fix our roads. And I want to thank members of
this chamber for passing RhodeWorks which has allowed us to fix dozens of roads
and bridges all over the state and put thousands of Rhode Islanders to work fixing
them. Let’s keep going.
Pathway to Recovery
Now, I want to talk about a fight that we just cannot lose: the overdose crisis.
It remains our most urgent public health crisis, taking people away from us in
every single community. In the last two years, we’ve made it a top priority, and
as a result, overdose deaths were down eight percent last year. But even one death
is too many. The budget I’ll send the General Assembly continues to fund what’s
working.
But, we have to do more. If we’re going to save lives, we have to support people’s
recovery. One of the members of our Opioid Task Force, Jonathan Goyer, has often
told me that his job has been critical to his recovery. That’s true for so many
people. This year, we’re going to create a new job training program for people in
recovery. There is no silver bullet in our fight against addiction, but helping
Rhode Islanders in recovery to get a good job will save lives.
I’d also like to talk about another topic we don’t talk enough about because of
the unfortunate stigma, and that’s mental health. I hear from so many Rhode Islanders
who are beside themselves because they or their loved ones can’t get access to good
mental health care, mostly because their insurance company won’t to cover it.
That needs to stop.
In the coming weeks, I’ll propose legislation to make health insurance companies
cover addiction and mental health treatment just like they cover diabetes or other
chronic conditions.
Let’s Fix Our Schools
Now, let’s talk for a few minutes about what we’re going to do to fix our schools.
Last week, schools across our state had to close and send students home. All across
Rhode Island, there are teachers putting trash bins in the middle of the classroom
to collect water dripping from leaky ceilings. Teachers and students are getting
sick because of mold.
Our school buildings get a failing grade, and that’s not acceptable. And like
anything,
the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. Rhode Island hasn’t made a meaningful,
statewide investment in our school buildings in over 25 years.
One of the first things I did as Governor was to end the previous administrations’
freeze on school construction and add funding for high priority projects. Because
of that decision, we’ve been able to fix a handful of our worst schools, including
Potter Burns Elementary School in Pawtucket. It was a 100-year-old building, and
you knew it the minute you walked in the door. Today, because we came together
and made an investment, it’s bright, it’s clean, it’s got a new library, and it’s
been totally rebuilt and wired for 21st century learning so that kids are ready
for 21st century jobs.
Attendance is up, and disciplinary problems are down. Students and teachers are
proud to attend Potter Burns. And there isn’t a parent in Rhode Island who wouldn’t
be proud to send their child there.
So, let’s keep going. Our children deserve to know we value them.
Tonight I’m calling on all of us to take action. Let’s make a once-in-a-generation
investment in our schools. Together with our cities and towns, let’s commit to
investing
$1 billion over the next five years to fix our public schools. Don’t let anyone
tell you we can’t afford to do this. We can. We have a detailed plan that outlines
how we can invest more and do it smarter so that we protect taxpayers at the same
time. Every year we wait, we waste millions of dollars putting band aids on our
crumbling schools. So let’s act now.
LET’S KEEP GOING: OUR WORK IS FAR FROM DONE
My fellow Rhode Islanders, we’re making real progress. But our work is far from
done. The recovery still hasn’t reached everyone. We’re not going to stop until
every Rhode Islander is included. We’ll keep going until every child is lifted out
of poverty; until every child can attend a flourishing public school; until we
meet the needs of every senior; and until every Rhode Islander has a shot at a good
job.
Let’s stay at it until every Rhode Islander can work free from harassment, abuse
or bullying. I applaud every woman who has come forward to tell her story. And
I pledge to work with anyone to root out harassment in this building and every
other workplace in our state.
We also have to come together to make sure that the uncertainty in Washington doesn’t
derail our progress. Now, more than ever, we need to stand up to protect Rhode
Islanders.
Nearly every person in Rhode Island has health insurance, and the premiums on our
health exchange are the lowest in America. When politicians in Washington tried
to take health care away, we spoke out and we stopped it. We are not going to
let Washington take your health care away.
When politicians in Washington took aim at our Dreamers we stood with them because
in Rhode Island we don’t just tolerate diversity; we celebrate it.
And last week, when President Trump announced a plan to open our coast line to drill
for oil, we, the people of Rhode Island said: «Not on our watch.»
We’ve come so far and need to keep going.
THE RHODE ISLAND WE LOVE
I’d like to end tonight where we began, and share with you the rest of Alan and
Lisa Tortolani’s story. It’s a story that offers a window into what Rhode Island
is all about. Who we are, and what our state can be.
Nine months ago, on a Friday, Alan called Lisa while he was heading home from work.
Before they hung up, they said, «I love you,» just like they always do. And after
that, Alan went out for a bike ride.
But Alan never came home.
He was 40 years old. He was a dad with three kids. While he was riding, something
happened. He collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital. And he passed away late that
night.
His wife and kids miss him every single day. Somehow, Lisa’s found the strength
to pick up the pieces. She keeps going. She’s running ABCya now, leading it to new
heights, honoring Alan’s work and deepening ABCya’s commitment to Rhode Island.
I asked Lisa, «Why are you so committed to Rhode Island.» I mean, she wasn’t born
here; she didn’t grow up here.
She told me she’s never lived in a community that’s as kind-hearted, and as tight-knit
as Rhode Island. Alan’s been gone nine months. Lisa can’t remember a single night
that a friend or neighbor hasn’t brought dinner over for her and her three kids.
That’s who we are. That’s the state we love. That’s what Rhode Island is all about.
Lisa’s here with us tonight. Lisa, you’re amazing, and inspire us all to keep going.
Let’s all keep going for Rhode Island. Let’s commit ourselves to making our recovery
real for everybody. Let’s stand up for our values and protect the progress we’ve
made.
The Tortolanis love Rhode Island – not because it’s perfect, but because of the
people – people who wake up every morning determined to make Rhode Island it better.
They love it for the same reason we all do.
Because it’s home.