Office of the Governor
Governor Lincoln Almond's State of the State Address
A CHALLENGE FOR CHANGE
Speaker Harwood, Senate Majority Leader Kelly, Minority Leader Flynn and members of the Senate, Majority Leader Caruolo, Minority Leader Salisbury and members of the House... Lt. Governor Weygand, Secretary of State Langevin, Attorney General Pine, General Treasurer Mayer.... members of our Congressional delegation... members of my cabinet... Chief Justice Weisberger and members of the judiciary... Acting Commissioner of Higher Education Graboys and College and University Presidents... Mayors, Town Administrators, Town Managers... and people of the State of Rhode Island... It is an honor to present to you my second State of the State Address.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the events of the last few weeks, which although difficult, reinforced my belief and faith in Rhode Islanders' ability to meet and overcome challenges.
First, we were hit with the Blizzard of '96. My thanks to state and local employees who worked many hours to keep our state running. While other states shut down for several days, Rhode Island largely returned to normal the day after the storm.
Then we had a major oil spill.
Last Friday afternoon, I was in my office and received a call concerning a situation at Point Judith. When it seemed likely that the oil barge and the tug were going to run aground, I headed for Point Judith.
My first stop was the Coast Guard Station where I was met by several cold and dripping wet young men and women of the Coast Guard who had just performed some very heroic acts to save the lives of the crew.
Although they had just performed their jobs in heroic fashion, they were frustrated and disappointed because they had been unable to remove one crew member from the barge due to extreme heat, heavy smoke, strong winds, and rough seas. While we were all frustrated by the grounding of the barge, we can be proud of these brave young men and women and the job they did.
Since then, many Rhode Islanders have given of their time to volunteer and help with the rescuing of oil-soaked birds, and with the clean up efforts. I want to thank them for everything they have done, and continue to do.
I also want to thank President Clinton for his concern and quick response to our requests for assistance, and for making available Secretary of Transportation Pena and EPA Director Carol Browner.
I also want to thank Governors King, Weld, Rowland and Pataki for their offers of assistance. Federal, state and local coordination of the response to the spill has been excellent -- and we are optimistic about a quick and full recovery.
As soon as this crisis began, I called key members of my cabinet into action to ensure public safety and keep economic effects of the spill to a minimum.
This evening I am pleased to report the remaining oil has been removed from the barge, allowing us to concentrate on the clean up and minimizing the economic effects of the spill. We expect to remove the barge from the area very soon.
At my direction, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation has established a Business Recovery Center to meet the urgent needs of those suffering losses.
In addition, I am taking aggressive measures to minimize the effect the spill may have on our tourism industry.
The Department of Environmental Management, in conjunction with the Department of Health, is aggressively monitoring Rhode Island's fishing grounds and the safety of our seafood stocks.
The perseverance demonstrated during these situations has reinforced my belief that we, as Rhode Islanders, have a unique ability to meet and overcome the challenges facing us. But our challenges are not yet over.
Last year, I pledged that during my term in office I would bring fundamental change to Rhode Island -- change aimed at developing new strategies to increase jobs, improving the quality of life of our families, making government affordable and accountable, and restoring confidence in the leadership of our state.
We have made progress together, but the toughest challenges lie ahead.
Revitalizing our economy is the key to Rhode Island's future. This has been the first priority of my Administration. Why? Because each new job means that a son or daughter of a Rhode Island family can stay here instead of moving away. It means that a welfare mother and her children will have a chance at a better future. It means that an older worker will no longer fear losing his or her job...
It means opportunity for the many small businesses that are the backbone of our state's economy -- the hardware stores, the dry cleaners, and the local restaurants.
Creating jobs is not easy. It takes years to have available, ready and fully permitted commercial sites. It requires wise investment and thoughtful planning. But we've proved we can do it together. Several years ago as President of the non-profit Blackstone Valley Development Foundation, I led the effort to develop the Island Woods Industrial Park in Smithfield.
We recognized its unique potential, and, working with the Town of Smithfied, obtained the necessary permits and approvals, and made the required investment in infrastructure. Then, last year, I asked you to pass legislation designed to attract the financial services industry to Rhode Island.
You responded favorably, and I congratulate you. As a result, we were ready when Fidelity Investments decided to bring 1,000 or more good jobs to Rhode Island.
These new jobs will improve the economy and create a much stronger tax base for our state and for our local communities.
We have replaced an inefficient shotgun approach to business attraction with a more focused, tactical strategy that builds upon our real strengths and advantages. In our first year, we have fundamentally changed our approach to economic development.
With your help, we have restructured the Economic Development Corporation, positioning it to be an important resource to our existing businesses in Rhode Island.
The financial services legislation clearly set us apart from other states. In addition to the tremendous Fidelity investment, we expect that this initiative will mean hundreds of new jobs in the coming years. That's something we should all be proud of. We will be proposing similar approaches to attract the insurance industry. But we can't stop there.
Working with the private-sector led Economic Policy Council, we have laid the groundwork so that Rhode Island can grow in such areas as software engineering, ocean technology, bio-medical, aquaculture and advanced manufacturing. Our rich resource of colleges, universities and research centers needs to be at the core of our strategy. We have taken a step in this direction through the Centers of Research Excellence program.
This year we must redouble our efforts. We will focus on a comprehensive approach to improve the manufacturing business climate. For over 200 years, manufacturing has been the foundation of Rhode Island's economy. But, in the past decade, we have experienced a serious loss of manufacturing jobs.
Some of this loss has been caused by changes beyond our control -- reduced defense spending, corporate downsizing and the shift away from low tech manufacturing. On the other hand, our state cannot be held totally blameless.
For too long, we have ignored the competitive realities of a global marketplace and its pressures on our manufacturing community. I am committed to keeping manufacturing a vital and critical element of our economic base.
As part of my 1996 legislative agenda, I will be seeking your support for my Manufacturing Competitiveness Plan which represents the most ambitious economic development agenda the manufacturing community has seen in decades.
Included in my plan will be reform measures aimed at lowering our companies indirect labor costs. Some of these initiatives may not be popular. But we must change our ways if we are to effectively compete for new jobs and investment in our state.
We cannot be successful with dubious distinctions such as having the highest unemployment compensation costs in the country. This assembly knows how to tackle these difficult issues. Your workers compensation reforms enacted several years ago are beginning to show real signs of success. Costs are going down and more insurers are entering the market. We need to stay the course, and we need to tackle our other business issues with the same zeal.
I am asking you to join with me in aggressively positioning Rhode Island to have the most competitive, pro-jobs business climate in the entire Northeast.
I'm very encouraged by the attention that this assembly is paying to the high cost of energy in our State.
Our combined efforts have already had a positive effect on industrial rates, and provided the climate that has allowed businesses like Toray Plastics to expand. Just this last Monday, I joined with Toray in announcing a new $50 million expansion in addition to a $100 million expansion announced last March. This is a direct result of that policy. I think we can all agree, however, that there's still a long way to go.
I am committed to working with the General Assembly to keep Rhode Island a national leader in the deregulation of its electric utility system.
However, we cannot plow ahead aimlessly and without some understanding of who might be the winners and losers in a deregulated environment. I look forward to being a full partner in this debate.
I will continue to push for the redevelopment of our many unused industrial properties. Last year you and I enacted Brownfields legislation, which has already been instrumental in creating jobs. Display World will be bringing 145 jobs to RI as a result of our actions, and their employment is expected to grow.
Just this week Senator Chafee and I announced receipt of a $200,000 federal grant to help revitalize contaminated parcels of land. We will add another $210,000 to that fund from our Superfund Recoveries. Building on this success, we will be proposing a revolving loan fund to assist in the clean up of unused industrial sites. I also will be proposing tax credits for the rehabilitation of industrial properties.
We have begun the task of making changes in our business climate. But, there's more to it than just tax and regulatory issues.
It requires a significant improvement in the way government interacts with business. We will be putting forth significant changes to streamline the way we regulate wetlands and septic systems.
I have also made available funds to completely review DEM's permitting process. We can protect the environment without placing unnecessary burdens and expense on developers and homeowners.
I have been encouraged by the support of the labor community on the Providence Place Mall and other economic growth issues. I look forward to working with them and other groups on the important economic issues I have outlined. Speaking of the Providence Place Mall, I was very encouraged and very happy to read in this morning's paper that the Warwick Mall was planning an expansion and some improvements. My congratulations.
We CAN make Rhode Island the most attractive and competitive location in the region for business and industry to grow and develop. It will take the cooperation of everyone.
While good jobs are the foundation for a sound economy, strong families are the foundation of our future.
My own family -- especially my wife, Marilyn, who is here with us this evening -- has been the source of tremendous support throughout my life, and in particular during this past year. My motivation for every one of the actions I take is my desire to provide better opportunities for Rhode Island families.
The most important thing we can do for families is to boost the economy and expand the availability of good jobs. The second is to ensure that our government and its services are affordable. And the third is to ensure that our policies support families rather than tear them apart.
Last week I announced a welfare reform package that will do just that. It will help families help themselves.
After a year of full examination and discussion, I am convinced more than ever that reform of the welfare system is one of the keys to a better life for our children. Did you know that one-quarter of the mothers on welfare today applied before the age of 20?
What does that say about our society? Our welfare system encourages these children to set up their own apartments and live independently. My proposal will require them to live at home.
But there is another proposal before you that would reform the system by paying those pregnant teenagers $200 a month.
I say that is the wrong message. My message to these young women is this -- your life has barely begun, don't give up on your future. Becoming pregnant will no longer entitle you to cash and independence -- not because we want to punish you, but because we want you to explore your full potential as an adult before you have a child. And to young men -- a child is equally your responsibility and we will not let you abrogate it.
My proposal shifts the way we spend our welfare dollars. No longer will our system be one that favors a subsistence cash benefit over individual earnings. The cash benefit will become a supplement to earnings, and all low-income families will be eligible for help. To those who would maintain the current benefit structure at the expense of those who want to work -- I say no and the President and the Congress agree with me.
My WORK First proposal puts our resources into the services that are essential to working families -- day care and health care.
We increase our investment in day care by raising the rates we pay by five percent and by ensuring that those who provide family day care services will receive health insurance. It is time we recognize the valuable job these women do - caring for our children.
I will also provide health insurance to all children under 18 in low-income families. Parents will be able to work productively knowing that their children are well cared for. Other proposals ignore these critical issues.
In return, my proposal requires parents to work to support their family. And it allows them to build experience and skills without worrying that a safety net will be withdrawn.
This is fundamental welfare reform -- real recognition of the needs of low-income families and children. By regaining control over their destiny, these families will once again find dignity, self-respect and hope.
I challenge you in the Assembly not to let this opportunity go by. These families need our support -- not a handout with a million strings attached. Let us move forward together to adopt fundamental change.
I also want to speak to the business community tonight. Changing our welfare programs is not enough. I have talked about what my Administration is doing to improve the business climate. Now let me ask the business community: What will you do? Women on welfare need opportunities. They don't want hand-outs, they want a chance. I am asking you to provide that chance. Business must do its part by providing job opportunities to these women struggling to make a better life for their children. Let us all work together to make reform possible.
I am also beginning an intensive and open evaluation and retooling of our health care system and services. Our Medicaid program and its administration will be completely revamped.
We will reform our long term care services for the elderly. We will push forward our efforts to provide alternatives for those with disabilities through the new CHOICES program. We will look for ways to develop private-public partnerships in developing health insurance options, keeping costs down and improving our health care delivery system for all Rhode Islanders.
Another critical need is a strong and improved education system. Higher education is about to get wired!
We are building an exit ramp off the information super highway to our Universities and Colleges through a bold capital improvement plan. I also will be proposing the Rhode Island School to Work Transition Act of 1996. This bill will put in place a statewide system to prepare our students for success in a rapidly changing job market.
One of our greatest challenges is to change the way state government operates. It is clear that we have a government we cannot afford. If we do not solve this problem, we will not have the resources to invest in health care, education, roads or job development, or assist our local communities.
We cannot simply continue to make arbitrary cuts in the state budget. Instead, we need to remake government so that certain functions are consolidated and others are eliminated. Last year, we began these efforts. This year, we will propose to eliminate three more cabinet positions and further streamline state government.
I have worked with my Cabinet throughout the year to find additional ways to streamline and integrate the way we do business in the state -- so that it is responsive to the needs of Rhode Islanders.
We have developed a package of proposals that I will be presenting in more detail to the Legislature in three weeks as part of the state budget.
As part of this package, the Department of Library Services will become the Office of Library and Information Services within the Department of Administration. This will enable us to increase access to, and make more effective use of, information technology.
The Department of Elderly Affairs will become a division within the Department of Human Services. It will have the lead role in creating a "Single Point of Entry" so that Rhode Island's senior citizens will have a simple, convenient way to get comprehensive assistance for their long-term care needs.
We will also be merging the Department of Labor and the Department of Employment and Training and create a more streamlined job training program to benefit all Rhode Islanders.
Another part of the package will significantly reduce the size of the State workforce, by eliminating approximately 1,000 positions. To do this, we will, as in the private sector, offer a fair package to encourage State employees to leave public employment.
Once the workforce is reduced to a manageable and affordable size, our strategy will be to change the nature and descriptions of the positions that must be hired in the future to ensure more effective use of every person in every job.
When we must hire new employees, we will have the opportunity to build a workforce more reflective of the rich diversity of our state, including more women and people of color.
I will also send to the Assembly a reform package on the personnel system to provide for regular evaluations of state employees, and more flexible work rules.
For new employees, I'll recommend we eliminate the 20-year rule, which gives life tenure to those who have over 20 years on the state payroll.
I want to bring about these major changes in state government with the cooperation of state workers... because I know they share our commitment to first-rate, professional management of state government operations.
We want a strong civil service system. We want a professional system. But we also want an affordable system that can be managed.
Over the years, we've given up too many management rights through collective bargaining, and some of those must be taken back. The proposed labor agreement that was negotiated in good faith over several months recently was not ratified by state workers. And let me say this. I understand why they said no -- giving up benefits and accepting change is difficult.
But they are going to have to understand the true facts about our state's fiscal condition. Given the ongoing difficult economic times in Rhode Island, and with cuts in federal spending looming in Washington, this fundamental restructuring of state government is the only prudent course of action. I must be given the tools to accomplish these goals.
If we have our heads in the sand, everyone is going to get hurt, and hurt significantly. State workers, the taxpayers, and people who depend on state services.
These changes are not easy to face. There is no longer an easy way out. There are no more quick fixes or accounting gimmicks. If we don't make these changes now, there will be nothing to invest in our children and our future. I urge you to continue to work with me to achieve essential change.
I don't look for headlines in the paper or fifteen second sound bites. That is not what Rhode Island needs nor in my opinion is it what Rhode Islanders want.
My administration is about rolling up our shirt sleeves, following through on our commitments and keeping our eyes on the goal: a strong, healthy economy that can support our families and children with a leaner, more effective government.
Thank you and good night.