State of the State
January 27, 1999
Speaker Harwood, Lieutenant Governor Fogarty; Majority Leader Kelly; Members of the General Assembly; Members of the Judiciary; Distinguished guests; My fellow Rhode Islanders.
Just three weeks ago, I stood before many of you to deliver my inaugural address. I spoke then of the dawn of a new age. And I spoke of the many challenges ahead.
With the new millennium only 338 days away, these are historic times. Historic times that call for bold action.
Historic times that require us to raise our sights and our expectations even higher. Historic times that will inspire us to journey into the next century with even greater vision, bigger ideas, and new ambition.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as I stand before you this evening, I am very pleased to say that the State of Rhode Island is working. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in nine years. Tens of thousands of our residents are working in new, good-paying jobs that we've helped create.
Our economy is flourishing. Quonset is on the move. Tourism is booming. T. F. Green continues to reach new heights, and soon we'll have high-speed rail. In just a matter of months, residents and visitors alike will be shopping at Providence Place Mall.
Soon the Masonic Temple will be the site of a luxury hotel. Children have comprehensive health care and child care is readily available. Education reform is in motion. We're enhancing all of our institutions of higher education.
On top of that, we're ensuring that seniors maintain their independence. We're investing in our roads, in our bikepaths, in our open spaces, parks, beaches and recreational facilities.
Without question, there's opportunity for all to realize the American Dream here in Rhode Island.
This historic time will not come again. Opportunity knocks just once, and this governor is committed to answering the call. We must build on our accomplishments to keep Rhode Island moving forward to even greater heights.
To the members of the General Assembly, and to all Rhode Islanders, I urge you to join me.
With the foundation we've set over the past four years, with the momentum we've gained, Rhode Island can and will charge into the 21st century.
We will continue to move up in the eyes of our residents, in the eyes of our nation, in the eyes of our world.
Tonight I am unveiling my plan to meet the challenges of the new millennium.
Our children are our future. They hold all the promise, all the wonder, and all the hope for a better tomorrow.
It's our responsibility to make sure that they have the best start in life. That means providing comprehensive health care. That means we must do all that we can to keep children free from lead poisoning.
This is a complex issue which stems from our aging housing stock. Home is where children play and where families share love and understanding.
Home should not be where children get lead poisoning. While we've made progress in eliminating lead poisoning, we still have work to do.
Last year, we set aside one point seven million dollars in a new Housing Resources Commission for lead abatement. I am proposing to double that funding for next year. I will also be seeking more funds for lead abatement training, for lead prevention grants to community agencies, and for better coordination of the State's activities in these areas.
We are now the first and only state in the nation to use our federal health dollars to replace windows in the homes of children with lead poisoning. Together, we will eradicate this terrible threat to the health of our children.
As you know, early childhood initiatives have and always will be a top priority for this Governor. Over the years, we have been working with the Carnegie Corporation to enhance early childhood programs in Rhode Island. That's enabled us to become a national leader on this important issue. My thanks to the Carnegie Corporation for their support.
I'm very proud that we have an important representative from the Carnegie Corporation here tonight.
Please join me in recognizing and thanking Susan Smith who has traveled from New York to be with us.
Back when I was growing up, my father went off to work each morning. My mother took care of my brother and me. How times have changed. Now often both parents head out to work. Single parents have even greater challenges.
That's why we must ensure working families have quality, affordable child care. Last year we did the right thing. The right thing for working families and for children. You and I enacted my Starting Right Program.
Let's dedicate an additional seven million dollars to bring Starting Right to the next level.
This funding will enable us to expand eligibility to provide affordable child care to more working families.
This funding will also help to ensure that children are learning when they are in child care, by supporting the training and accreditation of child care providers, and by improving early childhood programs.
That's imperative, especially when you consider that the brain develops the most from birth to age 6.
Additionally, we need to provide productive activities to our children during their early teen years. Let's increase the number of after school programs for youth up to age 15. It's for the good of our youth and for the good of our community at-large.
Once children are enrolled in school, they must leave school ready to work. What a long way we have come in meeting this challenge. Today we have real standards for student performance. We have real direction for education reform. We've made school aid funding more equitable. Now we have to stay the course.
We must continue our efforts to increase funding for urban schools so that all children have an equal educational opportunity. I will be proposing to increase school aid by more than 21 million dollars over last year's budget.
The majority of those funds must be allocated to urban schools which continue to face growing student populations and ever increasing challenges.
We all know that kindergarten helps set the foundation for academic success.
Quality full-day kindergarten can better prepare our children for the elementary grades and can assist families who often need to find child care for children in half-day programs. I will be 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.
Reading is the gateway to the whole world of knowledge. Reading sets the foundation for academic success. For success in the workplace. For success in all of our endeavors.
Tonight I ask that we focus our energies on the goal that all children be proficient in reading by the fourth grade. We can achieve this objective by working together.
I will be pursuing an aggressive set of initiatives to make this goal a reality. First we must give teachers the tools they need to help our students meet required reading standards. Teachers must have knowledge of the best practices and approaches to help children learn to read. That's why I am calling for 500 thousand dollars targeted to improve professional development in reading. I am also establishing a Teacher Preparation Task Force to help make recommendations on teacher training on the college level with a special emphasis on reading. I am proud to announce that Sally Dowling, who chairs the Board of Higher Education, will head up this task force. I look forward to the many positive results that will come from this effort.
We must also enhance funding for reading specialists to assist local school districts with reading programs.
Additionally, I will be asking the Board of Regents to assure that the strategic improvement plans now required of all school districts include specific plans to strengthen reading skills.
The City of Pawtucket has a reading program that's been developed by the School Department and the teachers. At the Baldwin School, teachers are training teachers to enhance the way children learn to read. They are focusing on the early grades and they're also teaming up with parents. We are already seeing the positive results of their efforts. Test scores at Baldwin on reading and writing are up.
That's proof positive that creating a development plan for reading has a far-reaching impact upon student performance. We have Ray Dalton, the principal at the Baldwin School, along with members of the literacy team here with us tonight.
Their creative approaches are challenging students and instilling a joy of reading that will last a lifetime. Please join me in recognizing them.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is having the opportunity to visit schools and read to our children. It's fun, and it's enjoyable. It also reminds me of the days when my children were young and I would read to them.
To all parents let me just say, that if you read to your children, they'll excel in school. That's a proven fact. In the coming months, Marilyn and I will be promoting a public awareness campaign to encourage parents to inspire their children to become good readers. (Pause.)
It's essential for our students to acquire knowledge in an atmosphere that's conducive to learning. That means we must invest in bricks and mortar.
That means we have to increase funding to enable school districts to renovate buildings and to build new classrooms. My budget for next year will include an additional 2.8 million dollars in school construction aid. Let's not stop there.
I will be proposing that all future increases in lottery revenues be earmarked to fund construction and renovation of our elementary and secondary schools. This proposal will provide millions of dollars for our public school buildings.
We have to help teachers educate a new generation of children. That's why I've supported funding to pave the way for the Central Falls Professional Practice School so that teachers can train teachers. Let's continue to fund this school and let's bring this model to Newport.
We must have the best and the brightest teaching our students. That's why we must put in place a new entrance examination for teachers to assure that they have the basic skills they need to empower our students to compete in the workplace. I am also proposing that the state pay half the cost of National Board Certification.
Finally, to provide training to superintendents, administrators, and principals, let's establish a leadership academy. This academy would also help pave the way for teachers who want to become administrators.
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. We're already undergoing the greatest period of construction and renovation at our state colleges and university in at least a generation.
We've installed the latest technology at URI, Rhode Island College and at CCRI. We're expanding the Providence and Warwick campuses 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. Our plans are on target for a new Convocation Center and athletic facility to open in the year 2001. All of these efforts will help us attract more world-class faculty and students to our institutions of higher education.
We must continue to invest in our academic buildings and in dorms, and I plan to do that.
We have to hold open the door of opportunity for our youth to attend college. That's why I intend to increase funding for the Higher Education Assistance Authority by 300 thousand dollars.
This additional funding will provide up to six hundred scholarships for Rhode Island's college-bound students.
When our youth graduate from school, we must ensure that they can secure gainful employment right here in our state. For decades, Quonset was solely dedicated to our nation's defense.
Now it's contributing to Rhode Island's diversified economy. Just this fall we gained control of Davisville's destiny when the federal government transferred the land to the State of Rhode Island. We already have a Draft Master Plan for this property which includes preserving open space, demolishing structures and building roads.
That's paving the way for us to market this land to encourage new businesses to open their doors there. We've already seen great success at Quonset with hundreds of new good-paying jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment.
Building a container port at Quonset represents the greatest economic opportunity for our state. And I intend to vigorously pursue it. We must press forward with the stakeholders' process to build a port that is economically feasible and environmentally sound. Then Quonset will be the only full serviced, deep water port between New York and Halifax.
The strength of Rhode Island's economy does not end at its borders. We are a major force in our regional economy already. Just think. When we build the port, Rhode Island and all of New England will prosper. We have a unique opportunity to make Quonset Point the pulse of our economy once again.
I can think of no better way to begin the next century than to create thousands of good paying jobs at Quonset. Let's make it happen.
As we grow our economy, we must be mindful that we do not leave anyone behind.
Just as we must ensure that all children have the same educational opportunity, we must redouble our efforts to ensure economic opportunity for all Rhode Islanders. That's why we have to boost employment in our urban areas. Last year we created our tenth enterprise zone, and we doubled the tax credits for hiring within the enterprise zones.
This year I will propose allowing these tax credits to be carried forward for up to three years to allow more companies to participate in this program. We must also offer assistance to small minority owned business owners by providing an urban equity loan fund and by establishing a business incubator in South Providence.
Our state will only continue to flourish if our urban areas prosper as well.
As a direct result of the innovative legislation that we've enacted, Rhode Island is an ideal place for financial service companies to locate. Now there are hundreds of new good-paying jobs in this industry.
Rhode Island can have the same successes in helping to create more jobs in the insurance industry. We were competitive enough to keep the global headquarters of Allendale Insurance here in our state. That's great for Rhode Island.
With the assistance of the Insurance Development Task Force, which I established, we will be pursuing several legislative changes to make Rhode Island more business friendly to insurance companies. Let's put these laws on the books.
As businesses choose Rhode Island to relocate, tourists travel here to enjoy our beaches, our many historic sites and cultural organizations. Rhode Island is already a premier destination site. Last year we set a record by reaching the 2 billion-dollar mark in tourism revenues. We can do even better.
That's why I'm launching Rhode Island Tourism 2000 to promote our state as the perfect place to take a vacation—whether if it's for a week or a month. By linking the Economic Development Corporation with the state's Regional Tourism Organizations we can create one-stop travel planning complete with a toll free reservation service.
The new Rhode Island Travel Planning Service – T R I P S -- will provide visitors with the information they need to both plan and book their Rhode Island vacation.
I am proposing one million dollars in next year's budget to launch this initiative.
When visitors come to our state, they marvel at our cultural institutions. One way to ensure that tourists keep returning to Rhode Island is to invest in the arts. We have to make sure that our vision for a Museum Mile in Providence comes to light. Heritage Harbor Museum is the first museum in New England to have an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution.
This also means that there will be a Smithsonian Gallery right at Heritage Harbor where treasures from our nation's most premier Museum will be showcased.
That's why I am proposing to invest one million dollars to enable Heritage Harbor Museum to open its doors in the new century.
The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts helps set the stage for the arts to take flight in our state. That's why I'm proposing to nearly double the funding for the Arts Council to one point five million dollars in next year's budget. That will benefit the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and Trinity Repertory to name a few. The additional monies for the Arts Council will also mean more grants to individual artists---to painters, sculptors and writers. These grants have helped writers like Chris Van Allsburg who is a critically acclaimed author and illustrator of children's books. Many years ago, Chris applied for an Arts Council grant.
His application was approved, and that first grant helped him establish his career. From Polar Express to Jumanji,Chris's books have thrilled countless children and adults alike. His artistic genius and creativity have been widely recognized. As testimony to that fact, he received the prestigious Caldicott Award.
We need to have more success stories like Chris's. Chris lives in Providence with his family and you can be sure that he reads to his children. Chris, we are proud that you call Rhode Island home. You are an uplift to the arts community and to us all. Chris, please stand and be recognized.
Just think for a minute about the people you look up to. So many of them are our seniors. They give us guidance. They inspire us to achieve our goals. They set the foundation for our success. We have to give them the opportunity to greet each new day with promise.
We need a full-service Department of Elderly Affairs that supports local senior centers and is conveniently located. Last year I asked for your support to move our Department of Elderly Affairs to the Howard Complex in Cranston. Now I'm proposing this plan again.
From offering information to providing research and educational opportunities, this state-of-the-art facility will give seniors a wide-range of assistance all under one roof. This new center will be linked with all senior centers in the state, further enhancing how seniors acquire the information they need.
Located at the Howard Complex, the Department of Elderly Affairs will be better able to coordinate services with our other human service departments already located there. Let's honor those who have given so much to this state by making this Center on Aging a reality.
Rhode Island has the third highest percentage of elderly residents in the nation. Our seniors are living longer than ever before. Seniors rightfully deserve independent and active lives.
Over the past year, elder leaders, provider agencies, nursing home staff, and members of my cabinet have been meeting to discuss the future of services for the elderly.
I am very pleased that we have arrived at a "Shared Vision" of where we should go as a State to provide needed services for our seniors. This Shared Vision will guide my agenda for seniors in my second term.
Rhode Islanders will have a dynamic long-term care system that supports high quality, independence, choice and coordination of services with the necessary public and private funding. We need to increase rates for home health workers. And let's expand services such as transportation, prescription drug assistance, and Meals on Wheels to help our seniors stay independent.
Our state is blessed with beautiful beaches, with parks, bikepaths, and open spaces. We have to continue to invest in our most treasured natural resource—our environment. Last fall voters approved a 15 million-dollar bond that will enable us to build bikepaths and protect open space. That was a great step forward.
We can do more. The state's Open Space Plan calls for the preservation of 35 thousand acres of high priority parkland, forests, and open space by the year 2020. With your support, we can accomplish this goal in half the time with the 50 million-dollar referendum for open space I am proposing.
To further protect our environment, we need to strengthen the Department of Environmental Management and make it more accountable. Let's join together and give the new director the authority to appoint two deputy directors. Let's increase the staffing level and add an additional 30 positions at the Department.
This is the agency that's on the front lines day in and day out, preserving our environment. I am committed to a strong, effective DEM that protects our environment through proper management and enforcement. Let's make it a priority this year.
At the turn of this century, our forefathers gathered to chart the course for our future. Now we're faced with the same challenge. How the next hundred years are captured in the history books very much depend on the actions we take today, tomorrow, and the days to follow.
Let them say that this is a Rhode Island that is forward thinking. Let them say that this is a Rhode Island that brought more and more hope to our residents. Let them say that this is a Rhode Island where gainful employment is abundant, where children, adults and seniors alike have the support they need to make their dreams a reality.
Let them say that this is a Rhode Island that charged into the 21st century with fortitude, with conviction, and with confidence. Let that be what they say.
To all Rhode Islanders, let me just say that this land is your land. From the beaches of South County to the shores of Newport, from the heart of downtown Providence to the bikepaths of Northern Rhode Island, this land was made for you and me to enjoy a quality of life that's second to none.
It was made for us to celebrate the past and to seize all the future has to offer. We can and will make the most of these historic times.
I thank you for giving me the privilege and honor of serving as your Governor.