Gov. McKee delivers State of the State address; Senate Minority Leader de la Cruz gives GOP response
Gov. McKee delivered his State of the State address Tuesday, focusing on a number of key issues facing Rhode Island. During his speech, McKee highlighted several areas he plans to prioritize such as tax relief, housing and education.
McKee unveiled his tax relief plan that will be in his proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year. One part of this plan includes lowering the state’s sales tax, which currently sits at 7%.
“We’re going to propose a fiscally-responsible, incremental reduction of the sales tax,” McKee said. “Let’s start by reducing our sales tax to 6.85 percent – approximately $35 million a year of long overdue relief – and if we continue to have discipline in our budgets and get to the same rate as Massachusetts.”
Other parts of this plan contain energy bill rebates, lowering the corporate minimum tax and stopping the gas tax increase slated for July 1.
“Rhode Island law requires us to implement a three cent increase on the gas tax starting July 1,” the governor said. “The budget I'll propose will stop this increase and provide nearly $25 million of gas tax relief to Rhode Islanders over the next two years.”
Also in McKee’s tax relief plan is a proposal to replace Rhode Island’s litter control tax with a line item in the budget “to Keep Rhody Litter Free.” This initiative will be led by First Lady of Rhode Island Susan McKee and the governor.
On the topic of addressing Rhode Island’s housing crisis, McKee said in his speech he’s “committed to building a capable Department of Housing that is up to the challenge and opportunity that this moment represents.”
“My budget will create a robust state agency, with additional funding to help our unsheltered population and set them on a pathway to housing,” he added.
McKee said his budget will also include “a targeted modification” to the education funding formula, which contains “an additional $57 million in K-12 education and another $4 million for out-of-school learning programs.”
In his November election victory speech, McKee said Rhode Island will “meet or exceed Massachusetts levels on education” by 2030. He mentioned this goal in Tuesday’s speech, saying, “within the first 100 days of my full term, we will be outlining a plan to reach Massachusetts education levels by 2030.”
Another policy goal McKee mentioned during his speech is to ban assault-style weapons in Rhode Island, saying, “let’s follow the lead of other states and send a bill to my desk that bans the sale of assault style weapons. I’m ready to sign that bill into law.”
McKee’s budget proposal is set to be released later this week.
Following McKee’s State of the State address was the Republican response offered by Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz (R-Dist. 23).
“The governor has put forth his 2030 plan, and it’s important to recognize that we agree on the many issues facing our state, but our solutions are very different,” de la Cruz said. “Republicans will continue to put forth legislation and policy-based solutions to create not only structural changes to benefit Rhode Islanders long term, but also provide immediate relief to our residents who are struggling daily to make ends meet.
de la Cruz’s speech also highlighted key issues such as the economy, housing and education, but differed in solutions.
The senator pointed out Rhode Island’s projected surplus of over $600 million, and is calling for “immediate relief” in the form of refunding money to taxpayers.
“Our state overtaxed Rhode Islanders and now it’s time to send a refund,” de la Cruz said. “Therefore, we will be introducing legislation to require taxpayers to get money back as they do in other states.”
Also on the topic of taxes, de la Cruz says the state should lower the sales tax to 5% in order to compete with Massachusetts.
During her rebuttal, de la Cruz said McKee should “dismiss his appeal of the unconstitutional truck tolls.” She added the governor’s appeal for the tolls that were struck down in September “is a prime example of what it looks like to waste millions in taxpayer dollars.”
Toward the end of her speech, de la Cruz explained what policies the Senate GOP caucus will prioritize when it comes to education. School choice and expanding the number of charter schools were amongst the policy proposals mentioned.
“Rhode Island families deserve more choice and ownership in their child’s education,” she said. “Whether it’s transforming to an all-public charter school district, expanding charter schools or creating educational savings accounts for private school enrollment, there are solutions.”