Header, the Administration of the Honorable Lincoln C. Almond
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Governor Lincoln C. Almond

State of the State

February 3, 2000

(Mr. Speaker; Lieutenant Governor Fogarty; Majority Leader Kelly; Members of the General Assembly; General Officers; Members of the Judiciary; Distinguished Guests; My fellow Rhode Islanders.)

Just one month ago, we closed the history books on the 20th century and celebrated the dawn of a new age. Over the past five years, we have made great strides in enhancing the quality of life in our state.

I am very proud of our strong record of accomplishment. A strong record of accomplishment that you and I and all Rhode Islanders can be very proud of.

Now as we embark upon this new age and we begin writing the first chapter in the history of the 21st century, let's build upon the momentum we've gained.

Tonight I am very pleased to report that the State of the State is brimming with hope, with innovative spirit and with prosperity for our residents.

More and more Rhode Islanders are working. Our unemployment rate for last year was 3.8 percent. That's well below the national average.

While our unemployment rate is at a record low, our economy is stronger and more diverse than ever before.

And the number of jobs throughout our state is at an all time high. Internationally renowned companies are reaffirming their presence in our state.

Tiffany's is expanding. Fidelity will be doubling its workforce next year. Citizens Bank is adding 500 new jobs.

We have also brought retail back to our capital city. We've created hundreds of new jobs at Providence Place Mall.

We are seeing a great deal of progress in improving our infrastructure. We just reached a major milestone at T. F. Green with a record 5 million passengers.

Our plans for a train station there are on track, and high-speed rail is here. Our roads are cleaner and many are newly paved. Our bond rating is up.

We are enhancing infrastructure without increasing debt. Just five years ago, we owed nearly a half-billion dollars in DEPCO debt.

Thanks to our hard work, we'll be closing the books on DEPCO in the coming year. Let's give ourselves a big round of applause for putting this sad chapter behind us.

We are also investing in our human infrastructure, and that's paying great dividends.

We have been nationally recognized by Working Mother Magazine and Parents Magazine for providing quality, affordable child care to working families.

Education reform is not only in motion, it's working.

We're also enhancing our state colleges and university. And we're preserving our state's natural heritage by investing in our environment.

These are times of great prosperity for Rhode Island.

Together we will continue to shape the destiny of generations to come.

Tonight I will focus on four key areas that will enable us to write new chapters in our ongoing success story---education, the economy, health care and the environment.

We all know that our children are our future. It has long been my goal to ensure that they have the best start in life.

That's why we're providing comprehensive health care to children up to age 19. We're also making child care readily available to working families.

Since we enacted my Starting Right legislation 2 years ago, our investment in child care has more than tripled.

We have increased provider rates, and the number of children in our state's child care program has more than doubled since 1995.

This year we will be enhancing this important program to provide more intensive services to at-risk children.

Some people believe that education begins in kindergarten. I believe it begins soon after a child is born. That's why we have placed such an emphasis on early childhood programs.

Quality child care gives children the start they need to succeed in the classroom. It's also a crucial component of education reform.

I saw firsthand how my children benefited from early childhood education.

Today their children are in child care and preschool, and I've had the opportunity to visit these facilities and others throughout our state.

That has inspired me to continue to push for programs that empower our children to lead fulfilling lives.

There is a gap between child care and first grade because most school districts only offer half-day kindergarten programs. That's why I will be proposing additional incentives to expand full-day kindergarten.

All children should have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Those dreams take shape in our public schools. That's why we've raised academic standards; we've strengthened accountability and we've implemented statewide testing of students.

You and I both know that the success of our education reforms will be limited if we don't address the way in which we fund our public schools.

We must have a coherent and affordable financing system. This issue is of great concern to me and to everyone in this room. Let's work together to reach a fair solution.

Since I've been Governor, we've allocated over 150 million dollars in additional school funding. That's a big investment in the future of our children.

Tonight I am pleased to announce that education funding will be the number one priority in the budget I submit next week.

We cannot afford to have a single failing school. We cannot afford to leave one child behind. Period.

Last year I set the goal to have all students proficient in reading by the fourth grade.

Tonight I am pleased to report that 84 percent of fourth graders achieved the basic reading standard on the state test. Now we must improve reading comprehension.

Recently I kicked off my campaign to heighten awareness to the importance of reading.

Through these public service announcements, we are encouraging mothers and fathers to explore the joys and wonder of reading with their children. That will help our children become lifelong learners.

Last year we earmarked funds to hire reading specialists to help teachers improve how they teach reading. This year we must continue with our professional development efforts.

Tonight I want to recognize an individual who shares my commitment to literacy, Diana Lam , Superintendent of the Providence Public Schools.

In a short period of time, she has set forth a solid agenda which includes reading as one of the main building blocks. Please join me in welcoming Superintendent Lam's leadership and vision.

Just as we have done in reading, we must now turn our attention to math and help our teachers with instruction.

Math skills are the keys to success in today's workplace---whether it's in a factory, in sales or in high-tech.

Our students must master this subject to meet the challenges before them.

We also need to attract the best and brightest teachers into the classroom. There are two ways to do that. First all new teachers should be required to pass an appropriate test before entering the classroom.

Second, we need to make residency requirements a thing of the past.

As I did last year, I am proposing legislation to eliminate residency. Every community deserves to have the broadest pool of qualified applicants.

Through Article 31, we have instituted accountability in our public schools. We know where we are.

Now we need to take education reform to the next level. If schools aren't measuring up, the Department of Education must provide meaningful, quality intervention. That's why I will be recommending one million dollars for this purpose.

No student should be forced to settle for less. No parent should have to send their child to a school that's not making the passing grade.

As we move elementary and secondary education forward, 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 at our state colleges and university in at least a generation.

In the coming years, I want to see even more improvements at our institutions of higher education. I want to see the day when the Community College has a fourth campus in Newport.

I want to see renovated dorms at URI and Rhode Island College. I will be proposing new bonds to accomplish this.

We must ensure that when young people complete school they have gainful employment in our state.

We are aggressively attracting the jobs of the future. Early on, the Economic Policy Council recognized the need for venture capital to assist startup companies. Thanks to our business community and the Small Business Administration, this has been accomplished. Recently we announced that the Newport-based BlueStreak.com is among the first companies to benefit from this fund. With a multi-million dollar investment, this company will soon employ up to 60 people. This Internet advertising company is the wave of the future. Tonight we have three talented individuals whose drive and vision brought BlueStreak.com to life.

Stefan Tournquist, and John Croy both graduated from Rogers High and the University of Rhode Island. And Annette Tonti provided the business expertise to get this company off the ground. Please join me in applauding their accomplishments.

We want to see more success stories like Bluestreak.com. We're well positioned to do that.

Rhode Island is one of the leading states in our nation for our advanced, high-speed telecommunications network in homes, businesses and schools.

That's why I will be issuing an Executive Order to create a Telecommunications Task Force which will be comprised of members of the industry and government.

The members of this Task Force will make sure Rhode Island has every competitive advantage in this field.

As we look to the future, there are new frontiers to explore. That's why we're creating four new Slater Centers at our universities. This partnership between higher education and business will generate more good paying, high-tech jobs for our graduates.

In order to attract the workers of tomorrow, we must have a strong quality of life. One way to ensure that is to invest in the arts.

The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts sets the stage for the arts to flourish in our state.

That's why I'm proposing to nearly double the funding for the Arts Council. These grants will benefit Trinity Repertory Company, the Newport Art Museum, the Rhode Island Philharmonic and the Providence Black Repertory Theater to name a few.

That's the kind of entertainment we want in our state---it's educational; it's uplifting; and it's part of our state's economic engine.

While the arts enhance our state, casino gambling will destroy it. It's bad for economic development. It ruins communities. And it tears families apart.

We are not going to put the future of our state in the hands of Lady Luck.

We are not going to direct our state on an economic course that's built on a house of cards. Let's not be swayed by false promises. Casino gambling is not for Rhode Island.

We all know a strong transportation system goes miles in boosting the image and the economy of our state.

That's why we are working hard to improve our infrastructure without increasing debt. And look at the results we're seeing.

We are maintaining our highways, paving roads and repairing bridges. We are also moving forward with projects like Interstate 195.

When that's completed, we'll have a safer route to travel and more land open for development. Without question, this new highway will change the face of our state.

Rhode Island's economy does not end at its borders. We are a major regional force.

Quonset Point is testimony to that fact.

Kiefer Park is virtually full, and we're moving forward to do the same at Davisville.

We're continuing to develop options for a successful port plan. I believe we need the middle-income jobs that a port will generate.

We must also continue to drive the economy by reducing the tax burden on Rhode Islanders.

We have cut the income tax for three straight years, and we will do it again next year.

We're putting more money in the pockets of our residents. That's making our state more competitive.

Rhode Islanders are not only concerned about their taxes, they're concerned about their health care costs. We're fortunate to have one of the best health care systems in the United States.

Rhode Island ranks high---fifth in the nation—for the number of citizens with health insurance.

But we still have many challenges ahead.

With the closing of Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts, my administration has been working hard to ensure that those subscribers continue to have access to quality health care.

Through the efforts of so many individuals, we're achieving our goal. Today nearly all of the clients of Harvard Pilgrim are continuing to receive quality health care through other insurers.

We've learned a lot from the departure of Harvard Pilgrim.

That's why I will be introducing legislation to strengthen the regulatory power of the Department of Business Regulation.

This will give the Department the authority to have better oversight of health insurance plans.

There are other issues of concern. We are in another cycle of increased health care costs. That makes it harder for businesses and individuals to pay for coverage.

No one should have to choose between paying for prescription drugs or meeting the monthly rent.

It is my goal to assure that all Rhode Islanders have access to affordable health care insurance. I know that is your goal too. To do this, we need to explore ways for individuals and small businesses to participate in larger group plans.

I'm gratified that House and Senate leaders, the Attorney General, business, labor, members of the health care industry and my administration have joined forces to seek solutions to the issues before us. We are meeting on a continuing basis. I am confident that by working together we will arrive at effective solutions.

Through our Rite care program, we're meeting our responsibility to our children. We're also addressing the health care needs of our growing number of elders. Home care and community based services are receiving more funding.

Let's expand our Medicaid program to allow more seniors to have access to services like prescription drugs and adult day care.

We must do all that we can to help our seniors maintain their independence. Increasing this coverage will help us accomplish this.

So many of our elders have called Rhode Island home for their entire lives.

If you ask them or any Rhode Islander why they enjoy living here, one of their top reasons is our natural heritage---our parks, beaches and open space. We've grown up in a state where a drive to the ocean is just 20 minutes away and a beautiful park is right around the corner.

That's the Rhode Island our parents have come to know and love. That's the Rhode Island that we've enjoyed exploring and our children and grandchildren are discovering today.

That's the Rhode Island that we want to pass down to generations to come.

A Rhode Island where families can bike on paths that are near the bay and green fields.

We know that open space is precious so let's safeguard it. Let's enact the 50 million dollar bond issue I have proposed to achieve our goal of preserving 35 thousand acres in the next decade.

While I have proposed this bond issue, the Nature Conservancy is already doing its part. This vital organization is raising 45 million dollars to preserve open space in our state. Just think what our combined efforts will mean for our future. I am very pleased that Doug Parker of the Nature Conservancy is here this evening.

Please join me in recognizing Doug and the great work of the Nature Conservancy.

We want our state to grow smart. That's why I will be signing an Executive Order to establish a Growth Council to ensure that our economic development enhances our environment.

This Council will work hand-in-hand with cities and towns, the private sector and environmental organizations to provide guidance to local communities on land use issues.

Residents of all ages enjoy spending a day swimming at our beaches. Hundreds of fishermen depend on our bay for their livelihood. We know that clean water is priceless, so let's protect our bay and our watersheds. That's why I'm proposing a bay bond that will assist the Narragansett Bay Commission in addressing combined sewer overflow problems.

Additionally, it will fund DEM's continued efforts to help cities and towns and homeowners protect their local water quality.

Let's make clean water a priority in Rhode Island.

When you couple this bond with our open space referendum, we're giving Rhode Islanders a tremendous opportunity to preserve the heritage of our state.

Rhode Island, this is a new chapter in your rich history. With vision, with determination and with the power of our imagination, we can make Rhode Island 2000 times greater than what it is today in every way, shape and form. That challenge belongs to all of us.

From our child care centers to our classrooms, from our factories to our high-tech companies, from our beaches to our parks, let's write a success story like no other. We can do it because there is no other state that grabs our hearts like Rhode Island. There's no other state that fills us with such pride. There is no other.

Please join me in my quest to make Rhode Island the state with the best quality of life in the United States. Thank you for giving me the honor and privilege to address you this evening.