Governor Dan McKee delivered his first-ever State of State address at the State House on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Some of the main topics in his speech included housing, education, his administration’s COVID response, spending the influx of federal money and small businesses.
“This COVID-19 pandemic has been part of our lives for nearly two years now. It’s what we talk about at our kitchen tables over breakfast in the morning, and again over dinner at night. It gets brought up in nearly every conversation we have throughout the day, and it’s a topic at nearly every special gathering we attend,” McKee said. “Understanding that COVID-19 is still going to be the topic of conversation for a bit longer, we know that it’s time to also start looking to the future. We can’t fall behind.”
Spending the ARPA money has been one of McKee’s top priorities as Governor over the past few months. Like he told The Anchor a month ago, McKee urges Rhode Islanders to visit https://www.ri2030.com/ and explain their vision for the state.
McKee touted his administration’s response to the pandemic.
“Think back, during [the] pandemic our unemployment rate was as high as 17 percent and we lost over 100,000 jobs. Our leisure and hospitality industries alone lost 37,000 jobs. But for the first time in recent memory, our state didn’t suffer its usual fate of first in and last out of the economic downturn,” McKee said. “During the first 8 months of our Administration, Rhode Island had the 7th largest unemployment rate decline in the nation. While there are still pandemic workforce challenges, the number of jobs in our state has increased significantly. Key sectors of our economy like construction and manufacturing are even above pre-pandemic job levels.”
Housing is on the Governor’s radar like many elected officials in the state. McKee calls on the General Assembly to “allocate a quarter billion dollars to make a once in a generation investment in our state’s housing stock.” Another proposal he explained will help address the state’s housing crisis is to, “[invest], $50 million to provide down payment assistance to Rhode Island households who need it most.”
A portion of McKee’s budget will include $430 million earmarked for construction of various educational facilities. Some of the $430 million section of the budget would contain funding for RIC’s Student Success Center.
McKee explained his plan for small businesses, a signature issue he has focused on throughout his political career.
“Let’s allow cities and towns to exempt a portion of business property from the tangible tax. Let’s reduce the corporate minimum tax, a tax that impacts our smallest businesses the most. Let’s create a taxpayer steward within the Rhode Island Division of Taxation dedicated to helping individuals and small businesses navigate the taxation process,” McKee said. “And let’s make alcohol to go permanent, an out of the box idea that allows restaurants and brewpubs to sell alcoholic beverages with take-out food.”
After the Governor’s State of the State speech, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown and Westerly) gave the Republican response.
Filippi was critical of the Governor’s use of executive orders to renew the state of emergency for another 180 days. “The pandemic: the uncomfortable truth about the pandemic is that our Government has abandoned the rule of law and our system of checks and balances, and undermines our most basic liberties,” Filippi said. “And your General Assembly, which is supposed to be the check and balance on the Governor during emergencies, has handed over the keys, with little meaningful oversight.”
Another concern Filippi brought up in his speech was the merger proposal between Lifespan and Care New England.
“In 2018, one of the best, well-funded hospital groups in the world, Partners Healthcare, had a deal to buy our struggling Care New England hospital group — to enter the Rhode Island healthcare marketplace — with the latest and greatest technology, and massive capital investment. Lifespan and Brown University lobbied the Raimondo administration, who then killed the Partners deal so Lifespan and Brown could instead scoop up Care New England — and control over 80% of healthcare delivery in this state.”
Although the speeches had differing views on where the state should go moving forward, both McKee and Filippi were able to agree on the state’s potential. Both also shared optimism for what the future holds with Filippi commending his Republican colleagues.
“Rhode Island Republicans promise to always call out those who abuse their power and influence, and to defend those that suffer it.”
He added, “And I pray you’ll join us in this endeavor: because your involvement is the only way Rhode Island will ever achieve its potential.”