FY 1999 Budget Address as prepared February 12, 1998
Mr. Speaker, Lieutenant Governor Jackvony, Majority Leader Kelly, distinguished guests and my fellow Rhode Islanders.
Two weeks ago today I stood in this chamber and laid out my vision to lead our state into the 21st century.
There's that saying you've heard of--you never know what the future will bring. Let me just say that I know what the future will bring Rhode Island: the best child care our nation has ever seen.
Improved schools where test scores are up where they belong--at the top of the charts. Dramatically improved roads and infrastructure. The nation's best economy with Jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
The most innovative services for seniors on the face of this earth. I know we can do all of this and more because we already have an excellent start.
We've come this far because we've joined forces with the General Assembly, with the private sector, and with labor. My detailed plan of action which I present to you today, will help us build upon the momentum we've gained.
I am very proud of this budget and the work we have done together to turn our state around. No one can deny the fact that we have turned our state around.
We took massive deficits at the beginning of my term and turned them into huge surpluses. Now we're reaping the benefits. We've all read that revenues are up. In fact, as of last month income tax receipts have increased more than 12 % over last year. That's well worth repeating: Over a 12 % increase.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is nothing short of phenomenal growth. The great news is that all of our revenues are up. And so is consumer confidence.
All of this great news makes something very clear. We will, without doubt, have substantially more revenues available to us when we conclude the May revenue estimating conference. That means we can make critical investments in our future above and beyond those called for in this initial budget proposal I'm presenting today.
Make no mistake about it. Instead of producing short sighted budgets that were designed only to get us through the year, we're making long range investments which will benefit us well into the next century. We're setting priorities and putting Rhode Island on the right track. We've dramatically reduced our debt.
Since I've been governor DEPCO debt has been reduced from nearly $500 million to just under $200 million. A big part of this was the Ernst & Young settlement which I worked hard to make happen.
We're now investing in our capital budget, and we're doing it the right way. We're putting away the state's credit card.
We're using current revenue instead of borrowed money to protect our natural resources and public buildings. Next year I'm proposing $14 million for a number of projects including building a new pavilion at Misquamicut Beach and to continue rehabbing the State House.
Over the next five years, we'll spend over $117 million in current revenue to carry out much needed repairs and improvements, and we'll accomplish all this while significantly lowering our debt.
But the fact is, we're making these investments on a pay-as-you-go basis. It shouldn't be any other way.
We're accomplishing all of these great things while returning money to the taxpayers.
We cut the income tax last year which will put over $178 million in the taxpayer's pocket over five years, and will cut rates by an average of 9%. And earlier this week, I announced my plan to give back $190 million in property tax relief to homeowners over the next five years. This is real tax relief.
The people of Rhode Island want this. I know you want it. Let's work together and get it done.
We've made great progress in enacting smart, targeted business incentives to dramatically improve our business climate and create more jobs.
And believe me, it is working. We ARE creating jobs. Just two days ago, I joined Terry Murray at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Fleet's new regional service center in Lincoln.
This state-of-the-art center will employ 2000 people, and as Terry Murray said, most likely, many more.
Let's do some quick math here. 2,000 with Fleet. 1250 with Fidelity. 750 with CVS. 1100 new jobs at Quonset. That's thousands of new jobs and there are many more being created that you don't read about at small and medium sized businesses across our state.
Just yesterday, I welcomed a Massachusetts software company to its new facility in Providence.
Our hard work is paying off. But we need to continue making the right investments so we keep Rhode Island on the right track. One of our greatest opportunities is at Galilee.
We're already restoring marshes and wildlife. We've just finished a restoration of Roger Wheeler beach. Galilee can continue to be the quaint, charming fishing village Rhode Island families visit on the weekends for generations to come. To make that vision a reality, I'm recommending over $18 million in further improvements to Galilee.
I want to continue to invest in the Centers of Excellence and the Slater Technology Fund. We're already seeing successes from both of them and we can do more. I'm proposing a total of $3 million for these two programs which will provide grants to new technology businesses with the greatest potential to create jobs.
We're talking about the industries of the future: advanced manufacturing, biotech, electronics, and computers. And I'm also recommending $1.5 million more for the Economic Development Corporation so they can step up their efforts to assist businesses here at home and aggressively market Rhode Island throughout the world as a great new place to do business.
While we invest in our economy, we must also invest in our families and our children. We can't afford not to.
My Starting RIght plan will help ensure that every working family in Rhode Island has access to safe, quality, affordable child care. This is good for our kids and its good for our economy.
Over the course of this three year plan, Starting RIght will increase funding for child care by over $13 million by using both state and federal sources. That's an increase of over 50% and that's something to be proud of.
These funds will be used to expand eligibility, start new programs for young teens, and increase training and other support for child care centers.
All of these steps will enable us to meet my goals of giving Rhode Island the nation's very best child care system in the 21st century - a system that will help thousands more working families obtain affordable child care.
In my budget I have also set aside $1 million in additional state education aid to be used by local districts to expand pre-school and kindergarten programs. That's a local option we must support.
Additionally, I've increased funding by $225,000 for the Child Opportunity Zone program, a national model.
This additional money will help strengthen Family Centers in our schools. These centers provide services that make a difference and help families face difficult social challenges.
While we work to improve child care so that kids enter school ready to learn, we must ensure that our children leave school ready to work.
There's no question that we need to provide adequate funding for our schools, but more spending alone will not guarantee success.
We need to stay the course on the dramatic education reform we started last year by continuing to stress standards, results and accountability.
To move our education agenda forward, I am proposing that State Education Aid next year to Cities and Towns increase by $15.6 million.
The new education aid is once again targeted to the urban school districts with the most underprivileged students and the greatest need.
Let me make this pledge. As new revenues become available I want you to know that I'll be seeking to substantially increase this new funding to match last year's increase of nearly $30 million.
Our teachers give our kids the greatest gift of all: knowledge.
We have to do more to help our teachers meet the challenges of educating a new generation of students. That's why I've set aside $1 million for teacher training. Our teachers will be at the front lines of education reform. They need our support. Let's give it to them.
Just as it's imperative that we improve our secondary and elementary education system so students can lead independent, fulfilling lives, it's essential that our colleges and University have the tools they need to prepare our students for the 21st century.
For too many years, we didn't invest enough in our three institutions of higher learning. We're changing that. I want the people of Rhode Island to know this: We're in the middle of a massive rebuilding effort at URI, RIC and CCRI.
Since I became Governor, we have come a long way. Voters last fall approved over $70 million in bond funds to install the latest technology at all three schools and to build and renovate academic buildings.
These investments will bring our colleges and the University into the 21st century. And we will do more.
This November I am proposing to put on the ballot another $21 million in bonds to continue renovations of academic and administrative buildings at all three schools of higher learning.
Now that we're addressing infrastructure and academic buildings, we need to build a new gymnasium at the University of Rhode Island. Let's not only give the Rams a new homecourt, let's give students a sports complex they can be proud of.
I know that higher education is about so much more than just bricks and mortar.
That's why I want to increase funding for higher education by over $7 million. This will enable us to hold the line on tuition at CCRI for the second year in a row. This will hold open the door of opportunity for all students to pursue higher education. The economy of our future will be knowledge based. Every student should be empowered to be part of it.
Make no mistake about it. As more revenues become available, I will seek additional funds for higher education.
We must also continue working to create a 21st Century transportation system. We've made great progress so far.
I'm committed to building on this progress by moving an additional 1.5 cents of the gas tax, or $6.6 million to improve our roads.
With this increase, this means we will be dedicating 4.5 cents, or $20 million more to our roads next year from the gas tax than when I first took office.
And to pave the way for even greater progress, I am proposing $65 million in bonds for further transportation improvements.
I'm also committed to funding RIPTA, Rhode Island's mass transit system. RIPTA helps people get to work. It helps students get to school. It helps seniors go to the doctor's office and head to the grocery store.
I'm proposing to increase RIPTA's share of the gas tax by an additional penny or $4.4 million. If the federal government cuts back on funding, RIPTA may need even more. And I'm prepared to help them.
I've said it before. I'll say it again. Rhode Islanders love their parks, beaches, bike paths and open spaces.
Our coastline, our beaches and parks are second to none. They make our state all that it is. They set us apart, and they've earned us the distinction of being known, well known as the Ocean State. We're recognized for our bike paths too.
That's why I'm proposing a $15 million bond issue for the acquisition of open space and the expansion of bike paths.
It's good for our environment. It's good for tourism. It's good for our quality of life.
I've talked about how my budget will impact children, education, the economy, our roads and infrastructure as well as the environment. Let's talk for a minute about how it will affect seniors.
One of the most frustrating things seniors and their families face is trying to get accurate information about services that are available to them. That's why I'm proposing a $3.4 million bond issue for a state-of-the-art Center on Aging.
From its consumer education center to its library and clearinghouse on aging, this Center will serve as an outstanding resource for seniors.
In order to expand the capacity of the Department of Elderly Affairs to provide information on long-term care options for elders and their families, I'm seeking funding for an elder information system.
This system will link senior centers to make sure the most accurate and helpful information is available statewide. Both of these initiatives will make it easier for seniors to get the information they need and deserve.
Today, I've laid out my vision to prepare Rhode Island for the 21st century. A budget is about so much more than numbers and statistics. It's about so much more than slicing up the pie. It's about real people. It's about our children. It's about our grandchildren. It's about our neighbors and coworkers. It's about our parents.
Make no mistakes about it. The decisions we make have real consequences for all Rhode Islanders. They have real consequences for our future.
Let's take control of our future and make the right investments to keep our state on track. I know what the future will bring for our state if we do. I'm sure the Members of the General Assembly do too. Let's stay the course and create better tomorrow for all Rhode Islanders to enjoy.