Governor-elect Gina Raimondo will undoubtedly accomplish much as Rhode Island’s chief executive. Exactly what she accomplishes is up to us. Here’s a list of 10 policy ideas where I think she should spend her time and effort.
1. Raise the minimum wage. As a candidate, she pledged to lift the lowest legal hourly wage from $9 to $10.10 an hour and then adjust it for inflation going forward. The Economic Progress Institute says a single adult needs to earn $11.93 an hour to afford the most basic living expenses.
2. Outlaw payday loans. She’s been a vocal opponent of high-interest, predatory payday loans and Rhode Island is a regional outlier in allowing them – payday loans actually have a special carve out in state usury law. I suspect this will be the issue she will clash with House Speaker Nick Mattiello over, with former House Speaker Bill Murphy being a paid lobbyist for payday loans and a close friend of Mattiello’s.
3. Grab the I-195 project by the horns and turn it into the most exciting thing in the state. Providence is in the hugely unique situation of almost completely redesigning its downtown in one single generation – and long after people stop talking about 38 Studios and pension reform they will remember how the city changed after the highway was moved.
4. No more small ball when it comes to public education. Charter schools and high stakes tests are neither the cause of or solution to the systemic issues in public education – which is that inner city schools aren’t doing well. Rhode Island needs to have a big picture conversation about public education. Here’s hoping Clay Pell and Bob Healey are as much a part of that conversation as is the first gentleman.
5. Two-for-one: make the Ocean State the most resilient vacation destination. In the next four years, Rhode Island can expect sea level rise, devastating hurricanes, floods and even sustained droughts. Perhaps the best thing we can do to for the tourist economy is ensure it can survive any of that.
6. Rebuild Rhode Island. It’s not a super sexy issue, but it’s a necessary one. Fixing our failing infrastructure will not only help us get around, it’ll also put people back to work. And fixing our infrastructure isn’t just repairing roads and bridges – it’s also updating infrastructure for the 21st century, and this means more and better public transportation. A Narragansett Bay ferry could stimulate growth on many fronts.
7. Fill the Superman Building. See number 3. Get Roger Williams Law School to relocate here, and see number 8.
8. Double team the nonprofits. As goes Providence so goes Rhode Island, so it makes sense for the governor to work with Mayor Elorza in getting the property tax-exempt nonprofits to pay a fairer share for city services.
9. Sunlight. It’s no wonder Rhode Islanders don’t trust our government – they get to see so little of it. Use your bully pulpit to end late night legislating, make elected officials more accountable to public records request and push hard for transparency wherever you see darkness.
10. What about jobs? I know this is supposed to be the first thing on everyone’s agenda, but if Gina Raimondo can take care of these nine issues, the jobs will fall into place and before we know it Rhode Island will be known for having the strongest economy in the country.