ALMOND SUBMITS BUDGET PROPOSAL FOR FISCAL YEAR 2000
Early childhood programs, education top spending priorities
Governor Lincoln Almond today unveiled his budget proposal for FY 2000, continuing his multi-year plan to rebuild and strengthen Rhode Island by investing in early childhood programs, education, the economy, and reducing the state's reliance on debt.
"Four years ago, we had a government we could not afford. We knew we had to change that and we did," Almond said. "What we did over the last four years has enabled us to strengthen our economy and make our state more competitive. Together we developed a long-term strategy to put our fiscal house in order. As a result of our efforts, 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."
Almond's proposed $2.16 billion budget is $105.4 million higher than the revised FY 1999 budget, reflecting an expenditure growth of 5.1%. Of that increase, $61.6 million is targeted to local communities, representing almost 60% of the increase in the state budget.
The Governor's proposed budget includes an additional $7 million for child care initiatives; $3.5 million for lead abatement programs; a 4.5% increase in local education aid; $850,000 for a new reading initiative; $2 million in incentive grants for communities to offer full-day kindergarten; and an academic capital fund financed by lottery receipts above the present level of $125.2 million to provide funding for schools to do one-time basic repairs, renovations, and purchase textbooks and equipment.
"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," said Almond, noting that his proposed budget would increase base funding to higher education by $5.9 million over last year's budget. "We're making URI more competitive than ever by building and renovating academic buildings and dorms. This year I am recommending that we allocate $1.2 million 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. Advance gifts total $5.7 million," said Almond. "Now we must show our commitment to this project by allocating $5 million in this budget to help make this facility a reality." In his FY 1999 supplemental budget proposal, Almond included the first installment of $5 million to meet this commitment. Last year the state committed to match up to $15 million of private fundraising dollars for the Convocation Center.
Economic initiatives proposed by Almond include $500,000 to help create a third Center of Excellence; $250,000 for a business incubator in South Providence; and $2.3 million to continue the state's commitment to fund the Master Plan for Galilee which calls for, among other things, repairing the piers. The Governor is proposing $1 million to launch Rhode Island Tourism 2000, a statewide initiative to increase tourism by creating one-stop travel planning complete with an interactive website and a toll free reservation service. Noting that the state's cultural offerings attract tourists to our state, Almond is proposing to increase the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts funding to $1.5 million and to provide $1 million to the Heritage Harbor Museum in Providence.
Almond's budget also calls for funds to meet the needs of elderly citizens, by providing $3.4 million over the next two years to create the Center on Aging at the Howard Complex in Cranston Ð which would be the new home of the Department of Elderly Affairs; expanding prescription drug and transportation services for seniors; and by targeting $100,000 for Meals on Wheels to reduce the wait list for this service.
The Governor again advocated for a $50 million referendum for November 2000 to preserve 35,000 acres of open space by the year 2010. He reiterated his support for a strong Department of Environmental Management and called for an additional 18 staff positions to help get the Department on firmer footing.
"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." said Almond. "The budget I am presenting will advance my vision for a stronger Rhode Island. A Rhode Island that will give our children the skills 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 resident holds so dear. 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."