PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is heading into her second State of the State address buoyed by a flurry of promising news about the state’s long-awaited economic recovery but also struggling to overcome skepticism about some of the maneuvers she’s undertaken to support it.
The Democrat will address the General Assembly on Tuesday night at the same time as she unveils her second budget since being inaugurated just over a year ago.
She plans to ask lawmakers to work with her on job creation while also tackling the state’s ongoing opioid abuse crisis, raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 from $9.60, expanding tax credits for low-income families and installing new highway tolls on big trucks to finance bridge repairs.
“We need to move this state to a place where people have skills that matter and jobs that pay,” she said Friday. “That’s the vision I have for Rhode Island.”
She will point to promising statistics such as Rhode Island’s rising employment rate. She will also credit public pension and Medicaid reforms for saving hundreds of millions of dollars and making the state a more financially stable and inviting place to do business.
The former venture capitalist and state treasurer will also likely emphasize what she has characterized as her relentless, hands-on approach to encouraging businesses to bring new high-paying jobs to Rhode Island. She helped push through the General Assembly last year a suite of corporate tax incentives and other economic tools that she says are now beginning to yield results.
But she has also been meeting increasing opposition — including from members of her own party in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly — over those business incentives as well as unorthodox policy moves that avoid the conventional political process. Some Democrats have sought an investigation and are seeking to block her creation of a new state office and $210,000-a-year chief innovation officer position funded by the Rhode Island College Foundation.
House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, a North Smithfield Republican, said he was supportive of Raimondo’s budget last year because it scaled back entitlement programs and included tax cuts. This year, he is increasingly skeptical about her push for public-private partnerships he describes as a “picking winners and losers philosophy” that expands government’s tentacles in the business community.
Raimondo said those initiatives are working and allow Rhode Island to compete with other states that have similar measures.
Two developers signed a deal this month for a life-science complex to be built on land formerly occupied by Interstate 195.
After a months-long campaign of phone calls and meetings, Raimondo also came close to drawing General Electric to move its headquarters to Providence from Connecticut, but the conglomerate settled on Boston earlier this month. Talks are ongoing to move a branch office to Rhode Island.
Raimondo said recently she took direct action to help get a new hotel project in downtown Providence after city officials lagged in accepting it. The project will be the most important real estate development in years, she said.
“That’s not bad for 12 months’ work,” she said in an interview last week.
Raimondo has described some of the opposition to her approach as crankiness, “hometown negativity” and longstanding local suspicion of new ideas that are needed to overhaul the state’s lagging economy.
“There’s a lot to love about Rhode Island and we have to allow ourselves to be positive,” she said.
Newberry said she has made several missteps by not soliciting wider input before making decisions.
“She seems to govern as if she has a mandate, and that what she thinks is the right thing to do is obviously the right thing to do and the legislators should just follow along,” Newberry said. “I don’t think that’s politically wise nor is it correct on the merits.”
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You can watch Governor Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address live on WPRI 12 Tuesday night at 7 p.m. It will also be live streaming right here on WPRI.com. Also, we will have full coverage at Eyewitness News at 10 and 11.