Below is Governor Gina Raimondo’s full State of the State speech, as prepared for delivery at the State House last night.
Speaker Mattiello, Senate President Paiva Weed, and Members of the General Assembly; Our distinguished guests: our mayors and municipal leaders, our judiciary, our college presidents, members of my Cabinet: We come together this evening to continue a longstanding tradition. A tradition that puts a spotlight on the incredible and remarkable responsibility that we have as stewards of our state.1
To our state employees: Thank you for all that you do every single day to serve Rhode Island.
To my family, Andy, Ceci, Tommy and my mother: Thank you for the love and support you give me every day which enables me to answer my own call to public service.
And, of course, to my fellow Rhode Islanders: Thank you for the humbling opportunity and trust you have given to me to work on your behalf.
Strong and Getting Stronger
At the end of last summer, I got an email from Cindy Strain, a mom from Lincoln.
She told me the economy has changed and she was worried her kids would have a tougher time than she did. I worry about the same thing for my own children. But she wanted for her kids what every parent wants: Opportunity.
Her son Christopher enrolled in CCRI after graduating from Lincoln High. He worked hard. But college just wasn’t for him. After leaving CCRI, Christopher enrolled in, and completed, one of our manufacturing training programs.2 He completed the program and today, he’s employed as a full time machinist with Greystone Manufacturing, a local company that added jobs last year because of our new economic development initiatives.3
Cindy and Christopher are here tonight and are a reminder of the progress we’ve made4 and the promises we must keep.
As leaders in this state we have to protect the progress that we’ve made, and keep our promise to Rhode Islanders who ask for nothing more than an opportunity to work hard. To quote Cindy’s email, we owe every Rhode Islander “a shot at a good job, a full-time job, a job with benefits, a job that has room for advancements, and a job people can make a career out of.”
My fellow Rhode Islanders, because of hardworking, gritty, determined, and talented Rhode Islanders; Because of companies that are expanding here; Because we have come together as one state to invest in ourselves, I stand here this evening with optimism, confidence and pride and say that the state of our state is getting stronger every day.
Our economy is stronger.
We’ve cut our unemployment rate by more than half since it reached a peak of over 11 percent in 2009.5 Employers across our state – many of them small, locally-owned businesses – have created thousands of jobs since I stood before you at this time last year.6 After years of marching uphill toward recovery, we have finally regained all the private sector jobs that were lost in the recession.7
Our business climate is stronger.
Last year, we cut our unemployment insurance tax for the first time since 1992, saving employers $30 million.8 We eliminated the sales tax on energy9 and reduced the corporate minimum tax.10 And it’s all paying off.
For more than half a decade, the 195 land in Providence has been nothing more than dirt, a symbol of our economic challenges. But as we begin a new year11 – our third working together – shovels, construction and thousands of jobs12 are at long last on their way downtown.13
Because of the hard choices we’ve made together and the strategic investments we’ve protected, businesses are finally taking a fresh look at Rhode Island.14 The budget I’ll send you this week protects our Commerce programs for one simple reason: Because they’re working.15
For the first time in a very long time, world-class companies like GE16 and Johnson & Johnson17 are choosing Rhode Island as the place they want to be,18 the place they want to grow. Other local businesses like AT Cross,19/20 Virgin Pulse21 and Electric Boat22 have made the decision to add jobs here. I love the work I do convincing companies to come here because I believe in Rhode Island and I believe in the people of Rhode Island. These companies are lucky to be able to hire our talented people.
Our workforce is getting stronger.
Thousands of Rhode Islanders are learning new skills to compete in our growing advanced economy. I met a man, probably in his late 40s, last year in Westerly, at one of our training programs. He pulled me aside and he said, “Governor thank you for believing you can teach an old dog new tricks.” I do believe that. And I’m proud of the Rhode Islanders with the courage and determination to learn new skills in the middle of his career.
The budget I’ll send to the legislature protects and expands our investment in training programs so that every Rhode Islander can compete.
Our infrastructure is stronger.
Last year, we passed the most comprehensive infrastructure program in recent history. It’s no secret, that our roads and bridges are some of the worst23 in the country.24 But now, because of RhodeWorks,25 we’re fixing our highways. By the end of this year, we’ll have started or completed repairs on nearly 120 bridges: a visible sign that we are rebuilding Rhode Island26 together. And in the process, we’re putting thousands of Rhode Islanders to work in good jobs that don’t require a college degree.27
Our schools are getting stronger and our kids are getting a shot at a brighter future.
To set all of our students out on the right path, we’ve made important investments in their success. We came together two years ago to guarantee that every child is able to attend all-day kindergarten.28 And we’ve made new investments to triple the number of public Pre-K classes.29
By the end of this year, Rhode Island is going to be the first state in America to offer computer science30 classes in every town and at every public school around the state.31 Not California. Not Massachusetts or New York.
But Rhode Island.32 We’re first.
Our commitment to our environment is stronger.
Last year, we made it easier for Rhode Island homeowners and businesses to be a part of our march toward a renewable future.33 Tonight, I’m announcing a goal to double the number of Rhode Islanders working in the green economy by 2020.34/35 After all, we are the Ocean State. Let’s all continue to work together to protect the beauty of our state for future generations, and create jobs while we’re at it. 36
And finally, our commitment to our Veterans and military families is stronger.
For years, we had a Veterans Affairs Division with no Veterans Affairs Director. Last year, I was proud to appoint Lt. Commander Kasim Yarn.37 And he’s gotten right to work. Under his leadership, we’ve opened a new Veterans Service Center in Warwick38 and in less than a year, he’s visited every single city and town, meeting vets in every community.39 Thank you to every Rhode Islander who has worn the uniform, and thank you to the military families for your sacrifices and service to the nation.
Now, while we celebrate the success and the progress and the people who make us stronger, we still face challenges.
I share everyone’s frustration, especially the frustration of those who depend on government assistance, over the roll out of our new social services computer program. I’ve taken measures to improve accountability. Rhode Island taxpayers will not pay a penny more for this system until I am satisfied that we are getting what we paid for.40
And it is with the heaviest of hearts that I come before you again this year and say there is still no challenge more urgent than our overdose crisis – a crisis that is taking our friends and family from us in every single community all across Rhode Island. Thanks to the courageous and heartbreaking advocacy from Rhode Islanders affected by this crisis – Rhode Islanders like Deborah Parente who lost her son Peter; and Barbara and Brian Goldner, who lost their son Brandon – we’ve increased funding for treatment and prevention,41 funding that I ask the legislature to approve again this year. I’ll also propose funding to support recovery housing for Rhode Islanders struggling with the disease of addiction.
We are strong.
We are resilient.
We are compassionate.
And we simply cannot afford to let up.
Dignity of Work
And we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that every Rhode Islander has a chance for dignified work at a decent wage.
When I was a kid, most people earned a high school diploma and went right to work. There was a pretty simple deal back then: Finish high school. Work hard. And get a decent job to support your family. You could buy a house, take a modest vacation – maybe to one of our beaches in South County or on Block Island.