Office of the Governor
Governor Lincoln Almond's State of the State Address
A PEOPLE'S CRUSADE
Wednesday, January 25, 1995
Mr. Speaker, Lt. Governor Weygand, Justices, Cabinet Members, Legislators, City and Town Officials, and, most of all, the people of Rhode Island. Thank you for joining me in my first State of the State address.
We meet today at a crossroads in the history of our state. Rhode Islanders have suffered decades of corruption, arrogance, and incompetence in their government, delivered like body blows from the front page of the morning newspaper. In just the last few years, we have experienced a failed banking system, backroom deals, and the conviction or forced resignations of state and local officials in all branches of government.
The news, however, has not been all bad. The people have rightly demanded change in no uncertain terms. Rhode Island, with the help of many of you here, has begun to take steps to change- like a child's first steps- small, unsure, unsteady. The people have voted to reform the General Assembly: to make it smaller, and to improve the pay of legislators. We have approved four-year terms for the Governor and the other general officers. We have changed the way judges are selected. We have established a strong Ethics Commission, not only to police government conduct, but to educate all public officials on ethical conduct. We have worked toward making the processes of government more open and more accessible to the people.
But like a toddler's first steps, these reforms are quite fragile. Without a steady hand to guide us, we can easily fall again. We must together be that steady hand-pushing, pulling and guiding this government and this state so that Rhode Island can walk, confidently and proudly, into the 21st Century.
Today, we are faced with a Casino Compact and a mall deal hastily finalized without public participation at any stage of the process. I'm here to say that the old way of doing business is over. Good government requires considered action and public input in decisions affecting each and every taxpayer before they become final.
The first and foremost priority of my administration will be to develop more and better jobs for Rhode Island. There are few things more essential to the quality of our lives than the economic security provided by a good job. Good jobs with good wages must be at the core of successful welfare reform. Good jobs will provide hope and promise to minorities and to our diverse immigrant population. Good jobs will help keep our families intact and our children cared for. Good jobs will permit many of our young people to stay and work in Rhode Island. Good jobs are the only real solution to the tragic crime problems of our inner cities.
However, we need to take a new approach. We can no longer depend on outmoded solutions to meet the economic challenges of the next century.
We can no longer rely on offering bigger and bigger deals and giveaways in order to persuade businesses to come to or stay in Rhode Island. We can no longer spend taxpayer money to build huge public monuments and call it economic development.
From my long experience with the successes of the Blackstone Valley Development Foundation, I know what works to create jobs -- good jobs. Government does not create jobs. The private sector creates jobs. What government must do is to create the best possible environment for businesses to grow and to flourish.
We must first begin by helping our existing businesses to survive and expand. Second, we must develop an entrepreneurial climate where new ideas and new products will help form new companies. Lastly, we must bring new industries and businesses into our state. To accomplish this, we must work closely with the private sector in a partnership with a common purpose.
My administration already has taken significant steps along this important course. As one of my first actions, my administration will seek $250,000, together with a match of $250,000 from the private sector, to establish an Economic Development Council. This council, consisting of private and public leaders from business, labor, and academia, will help chart Rhode Island's economic course in a rapidly changing global economy.
My budget also will include initiatives to support regional economic partnerships modeled after my experience with the Northern Rhode Island Economic Development Partnership. In addition, we will pursue the creation of Centers for Excellence -- a program for bringing businesses and the universities together to create and build tomorrow's products today in Rhode Island. And my Department of Economic Development will be establishing a business retention team to help small businesses, which are the backbone of Rhode Island's economy, deal with state government and access improved information and resources.
We will move to restore our urban corridor. In many cases, low-level environmental contamination or the fear of such contamination, scare businesses and financial institutions from developing or investing in these once thriving properties. In Rhode Island, there are nearly two hundred industrial sites that have been determined by federal or state programs to be contaminated.
This administration will be introducing in this session of the General Assembly, the Industrial Property Redemption and Reuse Act. We will create a user-friendly process which will allow the level of contamination to be determined, the site cleaned to a standard consistent with reuse, and will protect business from the burden of the liabilities attached to prior use.
Passage of this legislation and creation of the program will remove the barriers to redevelopment and help to restore employment opportunities in our urban corridor.
These measures will not work however, unless we take aggressive actions to reduce the cost of doing business in Rhode Island.
My administration has already begun the process of overhauling the burdensome state regulatory system. I have today signed an Executive Order placing a moratorium on all new regulations for a period of 90 days. I will also sign a second Executive Order instructing the DEM to overhaul the environmental permitting process.
We will work to streamline the permitting system at DEM by making it more efficient and timely without compromising the essential obligation we have to protect the environment. I will continue to phaseout the gross receipts tax on energy. And, we have begun to explore ways to lower the cost of unemployment insurance without hurting the workers it supports.
In order to successfully promote Rhode Island as a good place to do business, it is essential that we develop pride and confidence in our state. We must believe in ourselves and in our ability to progress and improve our way of life. As a life-long Rhode Islander, I know that we will not reach this point until we first put our own house -- this State House -- in order.
The people of Rhode Island expect and deserve a more honest, a more open, a more responsive government.
Unfortunately, we have a personnel system for state employees in Rhode Island that is broken. Supervisors routinely are members of the same unions as the rank-and-file workers they supervise. Rhode Island has virtually no performance reviews anywhere in state government. The concept of merit, if it ever existed at all, has been almost entirely removed by the system. The hiring, promotion and salary levels of state employees too often result from who they know, rather than their qualifications or performance. This practice destroys the morale of the many qualified and competent individuals employed by the State.
Public employment is not a gift. It is an obligation -- a duty to work in the best interest of the employer -- the people of the State of Rhode Island.
It is my pledge to professionalize the personnel system of state government, so that state employees can be proud of their careers and their contributions. To achieve this objective, let's first recognize the many talented and dedicated individuals who work in state government. Indeed, I have been impressed by the number of extremely capable and dedicated persons employed by the State. We must give these individuals the modern technology they need to efficiently serve the people of Rhode Island.
For my part, I have selected what I consider to be the most talented and dedicated cabinet ever assembled in Rhode Island. I have appointed persons based on merit, without regard to political affiliation. Many are nationally-recognized experts in their fields. And I have directed and challenged them to develop solutions to the many problems facing our state.
While we must be sure to recognize and reward the best of our state employees, I won't tolerate those who view their jobs as some sort of reward or entitlement. Like any worker, state employees must be held to standards of performance and must face consequences for failing to do the job. I am confident that most state employees -- who diligently perform their job every day -- are ready, if not eager, for a system based on performance.
I, myself, willingly accept that you, the citizens of the State of Rhode Island, will be reviewing my performance as Governor over the next four years in a similar fashion.
Fixing the state personnel system will not be easy. The system is tremendously complex, with hundreds of job classifications and arcane rules and practices. And there certainly will be resistance from those who benefit from the way the current system operates. The people demand change, and I am asking for the help of the General Assembly in order to bring about the reforms we need.
My administration has already taken the first steps. I have established an Emergency Hiring Council, which now decides whether each and every new hire or promotion in state government is necessary. I am directing my Department of Administration to develop annual performance reviews to be used throughout state government. We also must enlist union and worker input to improve the way government does business. In this area, I am pledging to join with union leaders and rank-and-file employees in a project using worker-led teams to improve quality and efficiency in selected agencies.
As for long-term solutions to the personnel system, my administration has already begun the task of preparing recommendations for the comprehensive changes needed to make government work more efficiently and effectively. I also look forward to working with General Treasurer Nancy Mayer in continuing to reform the pension system for state employees.
We have improved our constituent affairs unit of the Governor's Office with the objective of promptly and courteously responding to inquiries from the public. I have likewise instructed my department directors to focus on delivering a high level of responsiveness and service to the public -- because that is what state employees are paid to do -- to serve you, the people of Rhode Island.
Later this year, Rhode Island state government will open its first Customer Service Center where you can get everything from a driver's license to job training information, even on a Saturday. I also look forward to working with Secretary of State Langevin in helping to make government information more accessible to the people of Rhode Island.
Improving the system we use to manage those employed in state government is only part of the equation. We need to take a very hard look at what government does and whether all of the functions of government are needed. I can assure you that we will be working very hard to shrink the size of state government and make it more efficient by consolidating and eliminating certain areas and responsibilities.
There are too many agencies, boards, commissions, departments, and divisions in state government. There are so many pockets of authority throughout government that we have often lost control of them. These outside agencies frequently act like adolescents when their parents are on vacation-playing by their own rules. Over the years, we have witnessed a great deal of delinquent behavior by these independent agencies. The credit union crisis. The failings of the Convention Center. The arrogance of the Lottery Commission.
It is time that we brought these agencies under control and made them accountable and responsive to the public. While each of these outside agencies should be scrutinized, some are so wayward that they need to be permanently grounded.
With that in mind, I will introduce legislation to abolish the Lottery Commission and transfer its functions to the Department of Administration, and I ask for the General Assembly's swift consideration and passage of this legislation.
While we work to reduce the size and cost of government, we must be mindful of those essential areas which must be properly funded and maintained. We must keep our children safe and invest in their education and training so that they will be able to compete and thrive in the next century.
That is why, despite the difficult budget situation we now face, my budget will have additional funds for the Department of Children Youth and Families to hire needed social workers and to acquire and implement a computerized Child Welfare Information System to replace the inadequate paper records now used in that department.
I also will be establishing a 21st Century Schools program designed to bring computers and updated textbooks and instructional materials into our classrooms.
Finally, we must attack poverty and the crime in our neighborhoods. Rhode Island cannot succeed without addressing some of the difficult problems of Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Central Falls, and other urban areas.
The current welfare system simply does not work, and I am committed to change that system from one of long-term entitlement to a system that provides effective temporary support and services -- including job training, child care, and health services -- to enable welfare recipients to become self-sufficient.
The uncertainty in Washington on this issue has made a difficult task even more problematic. In fact, along with other governors, I will be meeting this weekend with the President and with Congressional leaders to discuss my concerns about the impact of federal changes on Rhode Island.
We are also working on a program with the United Way to start an innovative public-private partnership in Central Falls and South Providence to deal with children at risk. We will work to overcome regulatory hurdles and leverage federal dollars. The lessons learned from this program and other efforts will be used to set a new course for children services in my administration.
I invite members of the South Providence Enterprise Community and the South Providence Development Corporation to join forces with me to find ways to end welfare and begin rebuilding our neighborhoods. At the same time, we will be developing a comprehensive welfare reform proposal to take indigent persons from dependency to self-sufficiency.
I am also committed to comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system. There are certain hard-core juvenile offenders who simply do not belong in the Training School run by the Department of Children Youth and Families, and we are exploring alternatives to bring some of these juveniles under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections.
I also support truth-in-sentencing. The public is tired of criminals serving only a small portion of their sentences. But truth-in-sentencing will work only if we first reform the criminal code and sentencing procedures. I look forward to working with Attorney General Jeff Pine and the criminal justice community in bringing these comprehensive solutions to reality.
We are at a crossroads. We are blessed with a great history of independence and innovation. We are blessed with the most beautiful of natural resources, and a diverse and vibrant population. Our challenge is to take this great fortune and walk as a society along the higher road -- to a place where we have pride in Rhode Island -- to where we believe in Rhode Island and ourselves.
I know that we can do it, if we walk together and work together.
Please join me in a people's crusade to restore hope to all Rhode Islanders.
Thank you and good evening.