Budget Address 1999
February 11, 1999
Speaker Harwood, Lieutenant Governor Fogarty, Majority Leader Kelly; Members of the General Assembly; Members of the Judiciary; Distinguished guests; My fellow Rhode Islanders.
As I present the first budget of a new century, I will be assisted by the latest technology.
While you will see graphs and charts depicting our progress, we must bear in mind that this budget isn't just about numbers and statistics. It's about what makes Rhode Island all that it is.
It's about our greatest assetour people.
The budget is our most powerful investment tool. Let's look at how it has taken shape over the years.
Four years ago, we had a government we could not afford. We knew we had to change that and we did.
Together we developed a long-term strategy to put our fiscal house in order. What we did years ago enabled us to strengthen our economy and make our state more competitive.
Revenues have increased to the point where we have had budget surpluses for the past two years. That's enabled us to invest in our priorities. The result---More and more Rhode Islanders are working. Unemployment is at the lowest it has been in nine years.
Income tax receipts have increased by more than 20 million dollars over last year despite the fact that we're cutting the income tax for the third year in a row. Our state is more business friendly than ever before. Just yesterday the Wall Street Journal posed the question, "Is the nation's smallest state the hottest place to put a manufacturing plant?"
The answer is yes according to a Florida consulting firm that ranked Rhode Island number one in the nation for having the qualities that corporate executives say are most desirable. Our success story was also highlighted on national TV.
I've always said that it's my goal to make Rhode Island the most competitive state in the Northeast by the year 2000. Well, we're making it nationally. Let's applaud our efforts.
Our economy is also stronger because our debt is declining. Just look at the chart, and you'll see that line is heading in the right directiondown.
We have to remember that debt avoidance is just as important as debt reduction.
That's why we instituted an aggressive pay as you go asset protection plan that has greatly reduced our reliance on debt for long-term projects.
That has enabled us to invest in our dorms and academic buildings, in the preservation of our State House and in our facilities at our state beaches to name a few.
Since 1997 we've moved an additional 5 point 5 cents of the gas tax to Transportation. Couple that with the additional penny I am proposing to transfer in next year's budget, and we'll have made available 29 million dollars for transportation services. That's reducing the state's reliance on bonds.
We have come a long way. Now we have to build upon the momentum we've gained. We can do that by investing wisely. By exercising sound fiscal judgement. By working together.
Just as this budget is an investment tool to rebuild Rhode Island, it's also an investment in our human infrastructure.
All children deserve to have a solid foundation from which to make their dreams a reality. That's why we're investing in our children from the moment they are born.
That's giving them a healthy start in life. We know that one of the greatest threats to children's health is lead poisoning. No child should live with the fear that their home is not a safe haven. This year I am proposing to allocate 3 point 5 million dollars to combat lead poisoning.
That will enable us to double the funding for the Housing Resources Commission for lead abatement.
Additionally, it will mean more funding for lead abatement training, for lead prevention grants, and for better coordination of the State's activities in these areas.
Most young children have one thing in common---they're in child care. That's why we have to ensure that working families have high quality, affordable child care readily available. Last year we joined forces and enacted the first year of my Starting Right program.
Let's dedicate an additional 7 million dollars to bring Starting Right to the next level. Just think. This money will provide child care to more and more working families.
We also have to make sure that our children are learning when they are in child care---whether it's acquiring computer skills or exploring their creativity.
This funding will help make that happen by supporting the training and accreditation of child care providers and by improving early childhood programs.
When the school bell rings at the end of the day, youth need meaningful activities to participate in.
That's why we must provide funds for after school programs for children up to age 15.
While we're investing in child care and after school programs, we're also enhancing elementary and secondary education. Together, we've set education reform in motion. We are challenging our students.
We're assessing student performance. We're making school aid more equitable.
We're also allocating more funds for elementary and secondary education. As a result of our strong economy, we've increased funding for our schools by over 100 million dollars since 1995. That's something we can all be very proud of.
Just look at the graph, and you'll see the trend. Education spending continues to be on the rise.
I intend to keep it that way. Now we have to stay the course. Let's increase state aid to schools by 21 million dollars. I want to do even more.
As additional revenues become available, I will seek to increase funding for elementary and secondary education.
All day kindergarten benefits children. Children receive more individualized classroom instruction. Teachers have more time to monitor a child's progress.
This prepares students for future challenges and makes the transition from kindergarten to first grade even easier.
At the present time, 14 percent of the state's kindergarten students are enrolled in full-day kindergarten.
We have to encourage school districts to establish full day kindergarten.
It is a sound investment that will reap great benefits for years to come.
I am asking the General Assembly to set aside two million dollars for incentive grants so that more and more school districts can offer all-day kindergarten for more and more children.
Teachers and parents play a crucial role in empowering our children to learn how to read.
We need to encourage educators and families to join forces to ensure that all fourth graders are proficient in reading. Teachers must have the best practices and approaches to help children learn to read.
That's why I am calling for 500 thousand dollars to improve professional development in reading.
Let's also allocate 350 thousand dollars for reading specialists to assist local school districts with reading programs.
As school districts look at their budgets, they often cut funding for building renovations and for new textbooks.
I am proposing to cap lottery revenues at their current level and direct excess receipts to fund an asset protection program for our schools.
As long as lottery revenues continue to increase, millions of dollars will be available to school districts for one-time investments. Let's put these new lottery revenues to good use.
While we're investing in elementary and secondary education, we have to make sure that our institutions of higher education meet the challenges of the 21st century.
I am proposing to increase funding to our state colleges and university by 5 point 9 million dollars over last year's budget. As new funds become available, I will seek to increase this commitment.
During the past four years, we have undergone the greatest period of construction and renovation at our colleges and university in at least a generation, utilizing bonds and asset protection funding. We're expanding the Providence and Warwick campus at the Community College.
We're spurring the development of East Campus at Rhode Island College where we are building a new Performing Arts Center.
We're making URI more competitive than ever by building and renovating academic buildings and dorms. This year I am recommending that we allocate 1 point 2 million dollars to renovate dorms at URI.
We're working hard to ensure that we have a new Convocation Center and athletic facility at URI.
Just today I held a press conference to officially kickoff our private fundraising efforts. What a great start. Advance gifts total 5 point 7 million dollars.
My thanks to the private sector for stepping up to the plate to enhance the university which bears our state's name.
Now we must show our commitment to this project by allocating 5 million dollars in this budget to help make this facility a reality. Let's do it out of current revenue.
When our youth graduate from school, we must ensure that they have gainful employment in our state.
Our Centers of Excellence are an important budget tool that support the growth of cutting edge businesses in emerging technologies. We have a Center of Biotechnology and a Center of Ocean Technology.
We're doing all that we can to increase employment in the industries of the future.
Now the time has come for us to create another Center of Excellence. Let's allocate 500 thousand dollars to get this initiative off the ground.
We must boost employment in urban areas. Let's spur the growth of small minority owned businesses and provide 250 thousand dollars for a business incubator in South Providence.
Building a container port at Quonset represents the greatest economic opportunity for our state. You know it. So do I.
My sincere appreciation to you for your support of this project. We've already seen great success at Quonset with hundreds of good paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment. We must do all that we can to ensure that Quonset reaches its full potential.
Through bonds that were passed by voters in 1996, we're continuing our investment to improve infrastructure at Quonset Point and Davisville and continue our support for the third rail.
We are also continuing our investment for our Master Plan for Galilee through our pay as you go asset protection plan by including 2 point 3 million dollars in this year's budget to repair the piers. This is the second installment in our 9.4 million dollar commitment to improve Galilee. That's a big plus for our fishing industry, and for our plans to increase tourism in Galilee.
Tourism is our fastest growing industry. We can do even more to get the word out that Rhode Island is a world-class destination site. It is estimated that by the year 2000 there will be 67 million households in our nation on-line. Without question, the information super highway is changing the way tourists from around the world choose their destination site.
We have to give our state the competitive edge and further encourage visitors to travel to our shores. That's why I am launching Rhode Island Tourism 2000. Imagine how convenient it will be for tourists to go on-line to obtain the information they need to plan and book their Rhode Island vacation.
By linking the Economic Development Corporation with the State's Regional Tourism Organizations we can create one-stop travel planning complete with an interactive website and a toll free reservation service. I am proposing one million dollars to launch this economic development initiative.
Our state's cultural attractions are one reason why tourists choose to come to Rhode Island again and again. That's why we have to ensure the success of these vital organizations. The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts helps make that happen. Let's invest one point five million dollars for the Arts Council.
Not only will that benefit artists, but it will also assist cultural organizations like Trinity Repertory Company and the Rhode Island Philharmonic to name a few.
Let's also invest one million dollars for Heritage Harbor Museum to bring our vision for a Museum Mile in Providence to light.
A clean, healthy environment is a boon to our tourism industry as well as our economy, and it also strengthens our quality of life. How fortunate we are to have such beautiful parks, bikepaths, open spaces and beaches.
This summer beachgoers will marvel at the new pavilion at Misquamicut. You can see construction underway.
In the past this project would have been funded by bonds. We've changed that. Today it's pay as you go.
Rhode Islanders want us to invest in our most treasured natural assetour environment.
As testimony to that fact, last fall voters approved a 15 million dollar bond that will enable us to build bikepaths and protect open space.
Let's give them an opportunity to approve the 50 million dollar referendum I am proposing to preserve 35 thousand acres of high priority parkland, forests, and open space by the year 2010.
I urge you to say yes to my efforts to keep Rhode Island green.
We all know that the Department of Environmental Management is the agency that is charged with the tremendous responsibility of preserving our environment. We must have strong management and investments to make the Department more successful.
Yesterday I submitted legislation to reorganize and strengthen the Department. Let's not let another year pass without putting this department on firm footing. Last year we increased expenditures to the Department by ten percent, and we created 21 additional positions. Through the supplemental budget we added 12 more positions.
That was a step in the right direction. Now we need to do more.
Let's increase the staffing level and add 18 additional positions at the Department.
Just as our environment is an asset to our state, so are our elders. That means we have to help elders lead independent lives.
As part of our ongoing efforts, I am proposing to increase rates for home health workers.
Let's also expand services for prescription drug assistance, transportation, and Meals on Wheels. I am proposing an additional 100 thousand dollars for Meals on Wheels to reduce the wait list for this service.
As revenue becomes available, elderly services will join education as a priority.
We have to do more to enhance our Department of Elderly Affairs. That's why I am proposing to move the Department to the Howard Complex in Cranston.
A new Center on Aging will provide proper office space and the latest technology to link the Department with senior centers throughout the state.
Located at the Howard Complex, the Department of Elderly Affairs will be able to better coordinate services with our other human service agencies already located there.
By moving the Department of Elderly Affairs to Cranston, we will be fulfilling our vision for a government center in Cranston.
Let's provide 3.4 million dollars over the next two years to ensure that this important department meets the challenges of the 21st century.
As you're aware, cities like Cranston, Providence and Newport have a significant number of properties that are tax exempt. That's why we have the payment in lieu of taxes program. We have to increase our state's commitment to support local communities to help them provide needed services to their residents.
That's why I am proposing to increase the payment level to 30 percent within the next two years.
From a new Express Registry in northern Rhode Island to the piers in Newport, from the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier to our beloved State House, we're investing in every corner of our state.
The budget I am presenting will advance my vision for a stronger Rhode Island. A Rhode Island that will give our children the skills and courage to meet the challenges before them. A Rhode Island that will compete in the global economy. That will protect the quality of life that all of our residents hold so dear.
That will raise hopes and aspirations even higher.
As we move forward in the budget process, let's do so through the eyes of Rhode Islanders. Let's look at the progress and the investments we have made.
Let's use the budget as a tool to create a future full of hope and opportunity for each and every man, woman and child in our state. Thank you.