ALMOND SAYS STATE OF THE BUDGET IS VERY HEALTHY
Proposal Strengthens Investment in Education, Healthcare, Economy and Environment
Governor Lincoln Almond today presented his annual budget address saying the state of the budget is very healthy because of sound fiscal management and wise investments that set the course for the continued success of Rhode Island.
Last week in his State of the State Address, Almond unveiled his plan to further the state's investment in four key areas: education, healthcare, economy and the environment. Today, Almond presented his Fiscal Year 2001 budget of $2.3 billion which lays the groundwork for these important initiatives. The total proposed budget for FY 2001 including federal funds is $4.6 billion.
"When I took office five years ago, it was my top priority to get our fiscal house in order," said Almond. "At that time, our economy was in a decline. We had budget deficits, high taxes and high debt. Our roads, bridges and state buildings were falling apart.
"Together, we developed a long-term investment strategy to strengthen our economy and make our state more competitive. Our efforts are paying great dividends. Without question, we have brought long-term financial stability to our state," said Almond.
On the education front, Almond said this investment in our children must begin from the time they are born. That's why he earmarked $1.8 million to create a comprehensive child-care service for at-risk children, expanding his Starting Right initiative. This will allow providers to monitor children's health, nutrition and overall well being.
Almond also announced he is proposing to increase local education aid by $34.9 million, and is seeking additional Medicaid funds that could add an extra $8 million to education funding. Since Almond took office, school funding has increased by $150 million.
Almond renewed his call for full-day kindergarten, proposing incentive grants for school districts of up to $1,500 for each student enrolled in the program.
The Governor also proposed an increase of $2.9 million to local communities for school construction programs, as well as $180,000 for math mentors to help improve instruction in math.
Continuing the strong commitment to higher education, Almond proposed increasing higher education funding by $10 million. Additionally, he is proposing $6.5 million to improve buildings at the state colleges and university, and a $63 million bond for dormitories at the University of Rhode Island, projects at Rhode Island College, and the development of a new Community College of Rhode Island campus in Newport.
With regard to economic investment, Almond proposed $3 million for the Slater Centers and for the creation of four new centers, as outlined by the Governor in his State of the State. He also proposed $3.5 million for a technology fund to enhance information systems.
In order to have a strong economy and to continue the quality of life in Rhode Island, Almond today vowed to make an added investment in our infrastructure. The Governor called for moving another 1.5 cents of the gas tax from the general fund to transportation. His budget also calls for the allocation of 5.5 cents of the gas tax to the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority.
Almond also proposed a $60 million bond on the November 2000 ballot for the realignment of Route 195, the rehabilitation or replacement of the Sakonnet River Bridge in Tiverton and the implementation of the state's Transportation Improvement Program, which includes the Quonset Point Access Road.
On the issue of healthcare, Almond proposed $2.6 million to continue funding for Project Reach RI, which provides community-based mental health services for children. This funding would replace a federal grant which expired last month.
The Governor also proposed several budget increases for the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Specifically, he is calling for $88,000 to create an Office of Community Relations for communications, outreach and public information; and $214,000 for foster and adoptive care initiatives.
Finally, on the issue of the environment, Almond reiterated his call for a $50 million Open Space Bond for the November 2000 ballot. This will enable the state to preserve 31,000 acres of open space within the next 10 years. He also called for a $42 million Bay Bond: $30 million to help fund the Combined Sewer Overflow project, and $12 million to continue efforts to help cities and towns, businesses and homeowners improve water quality. And he proposed more than $1 million to complete the implementation of the Department of Environmental Management's permit streamlining process.