PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Members of a raucous crowd accused the State Planning Council of being traitors and socialists on Thursday as it unanimously approved a state-mandated economic development plan that aims to build on the state’s strengths.
More than 200 people filled the meeting room to capacity as others crowded in the hallway. Critics have called the plan, RhodeMap RI, “socialist” because of some of its land-use language and said that because its development was federally funded, the federal government could insert itself into state and local decisions. Others have taken issue with the timing, mere weeks before the new legislative session.
Council members said incoming Gov. Gina Raimondo and the General Assembly are not bound to anything and that the plan is merely a guide developed after a lot of public input.
The plan says the state should provide education and training opportunities, foster an inclusive economy and support industries that play to Rhode Island’s strengths. It proposes investing in the state’s maritime, defense and tourism industries, among other measures.
Associate Planning Director Kevin Flynn said RhodeMap RI does not change any laws or create any offices, diminish personal property rights or take away authority from local governing bodies. Rather, it builds on the state’s strengths and gives lawmakers and businesses “a toolkit of options,” he said.
The council voted after hearing about an hour of public comment on the plan. Critics reacted by calling out “Railroad RI” while supporters cheered.
Earlier, council Chairman Steven Hartford stopped the meeting to ask people to refrain from catcalling “treason” and accusing the council of supporting the plan because the governor does.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who attended, said the plan puts the state on the right road. Audience members in favor of the plan cheered as other supporters spoke.
The General Assembly required a long-term economic development vision by Oct. 31 of this year to boost economic development. The state Division of Planning oversaw the process and conducted multiple forums and workshops. The work was funded by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and more than $100,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation.
Diane Slader, of North Kingstown, compared language in the plan to something one would find in The Communist Manifesto. She said after the meeting that she was not surprised it passed and that it was a “foregone conclusion.”
“It’s their brainchild. They think it’s great,” she said. “They’re not willing to look at why people are so upset.”
Members of the General Assembly asked the council at the meeting to postpone its decision so they could scrutinize the plan in the new session. The House speaker had also requested more time to review it.
Hartford said it was time to move forward.
“It will set a good stage for the next governor and the next session of the General Assembly,” he said.
Statements on the RhodeMap RI vote
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello released the following statement after RhodeMap RI was approved: “With the amount of controversy involved and opposition expressed, I am disappointed that RhodeMap RI was approved. If this plan intends to set the direction for our state, it really needs the support of Rhode Islanders. It would have been more appropriate to hold off a vote until after the new governor takes office next month.”
Mattiello continued: “RhodeMap RI has diverted attention away from the goal of improving our state’s economy. It has no binding effect in law. I prefer to focus my attention on making sure that Rhode Island develops a stronger, better and more vibrant economy that creates new jobs. This plan goes far beyond the scope of economic development strategy. I will continue to work with my members, the Senate president and the governor-elect to more specifically develop policies, strategies and legislation that improve our economy and promote jobs.”
Gov.-elect Gina Raimondo released this statement after the approval: “Rhode Island is in a jobs crisis. Rhode Map is one of many tools Governor-elect Raimondo could turn to when developing an economic development strategy for the state.”
Kevin Flynn, associate director of the R.I. Division of Planning, released the following statement about the next steps: “The plan will now be officially listed and distributed as an element of the State Guide Plan and be formally transmitted to the General Assembly and the Governor as required by state law. Any policy changes that are referenced in the plan that would need to be implemented through government action would likely require statutory changes. That would be a matter for the new governor and legislature to determine.”
Watch the video below for an in-depth breakdown of RhodeMap RI with WPRI.com reporter Ted Nesi.