Anchor Staff Writer
Dan McKee was officially sworn in as Governor of Rhode Island on Tuesday, March 2nd, following then-Governor Gina Raimondo confirmation by the U.S. Senate to be President Commerce Secretary. McKee will face high scrutiny over how he handles the challenges Rhode Island currently faces when fulfilling the remaining 22 months of Raimondo’s term. McKee plans on running for a full four-year term in 2022.
Over the past several months, there was speculation on what differences will be seen from the McKee administration, who will be the new Lieutenant Governor, and how will he handle crucial issues such as, vaccine distribution and safely reopening the economy. The most prominent issue McKee will face is the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and safely reopening the state as those vaccines are being administered. Some immediate changes McKee has already implemented are, adding teachers to the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility list, increased involvement from municipalities in rolling out the vaccine, allowing increased capacity for gyms, restaurants and funeral homes.
Then comes the issue of the state’s budget. By March 11th, McKee’s 2021-22 budget is anticipated to be presented to the General Assembly. Some General Assembly members have expressed uncertainty over whether there will be a budget surplus or deficit, especially since the status of the coronavirus relief bill by Congress is still to be determined. The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Committee (RIPEC) initially said the budget shortfall was expected to be around $500 million, but it has since been lowered to around $329 million. The deficit and surplus uncertainty aside, Republican members of the General Assembly have argued over the years that the budget is too large for a state with a little over a million people which stands at a whopping $12.7 billion.
Other issues that will put a spotlight on McKee are the expansion of charter schools, which McKee has favored in the past, the legalization of marijuana, making the Rhode Island Promise program permanent, addressing the uncertainty of the car tax phaseout promised by former Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and many more.
McKee has yet to choose his replacement for Lieutenant Governor. Over 50 applicants have applied for the position, and there are multiple applicants who are seen as the favorites such as, Providence City Council President Sabina Matos, Former Mayor of Central Falls James Diossa, and State Senator Louis DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, and Tiverton). Given the added elements of transparency, McKee released the names and applications of those who applied. The potential outcomes from whom he selects could end up either changing the landscape for multiple elections like the 2022 Providence Mayoral, Gubernatorial, and Lieutenant Gubernatorial elections, hurting McKee’s chances at re-election or possibly helping his re-election odds.
Even if McKee does manage to successfully address these questions and concerns that are on voters’ minds, he still faces a tough re-election bid ahead of him against other statewide officeholders that are term-limited and will most likely vie the state’s top office in 2022.