1998 State of the State
January 29, 1998
Mr. Speaker, Lieutenant Governor Jackvony; Majority Leader Kelly; Members of the General Assembly; Members of the Judiciary; Distinguished guests.
As I stand before the General Assembly and the people of Rhode Island this evening, I'm very proud to report that Rhode Island is on the right track Ð to compete, thrive and prosper in the 21st century.
We're ready because I as your Governor and you, the members of the General Assembly have had the vision to make fundamental changes in the way we do business.
We should all be very proud!
We have taken bold steps to improve our business climate, and we've helped create thousands of new jobs for Rhode Island families.
We have 24,500 more Rhode Islanders working today than when I became your Governor.
Unemployment is down by 30% over the same period. We've got an impressive list of companies that are all adding jobs in Rhode Island.
Fidelity, Fleet, CVS, Hospital Trust, and Citizens Bank, just to name a few.
And for the first time in Rhode Island's history, business, labor and government are working together and united in keeping out state on track and moving in the right direction for all our citizens.
Make no mistake about it my fellow Rhode Islanders.
We've got the energy, the vision, the commitment, and the ideas to make our state number one in the country.
And you know what I'm really proud of? We're doing it the right way Ð with compassion!
I was very proud to be invited to the White House by President Clinton, who praised Rhode Island for our commitment to our children.
One state is leading the nation, in providing expanded health coverage to kids. That's Rhode Island.
One state led the nation on making child care an entitlement for working families. That's Rhode Island.
One state led the nation in restructuring utilities. That's Rhode Island. Thank you George Caruolo for your leadership on this important issue.
Rhode Island is not just going to enter the 21st century, Rhode Island is going to lead the way.
As Governor, I'm proud of the changes we've made to give people renewed hope in their future and our state's future.
City by city, and town by town, we're lifting the spirit of Rhode Island.
But I know that the remarkable progress we have seen in our state could not have happened without the help of many people.
Whether it's the business community, labor, the academic community, the General Assembly, or every day Rhode Islanders, countless people have done their part to put Rhode Island on a path to success.
To all those who have stepped up to the plate, I congratulate you and thank you.
Let's take a closer look at just how far we've come in preparing Rhode Island for the next century.
We're finally investing in Quonset Point, and it's paying off. Quonset is on the move.
Since I've been Governor, 30 quality businesses have moved there. That means more than 1,000 jobs, and it also means over $200 million in private investment.
Our new Master Plan for Quonset lays out the potential for thousands of more jobs. Let's get it done.
While we're adding jobs in the private sector throughout Rhode Island, we're cutting jobs in state government. We have reduced the state workforce by nearly 1,000 people. We have eliminated three departments of state government.
We dramatically cut the DEPCO debt by several hundred million dollars. We are putting the credit union crisis behind us.
We faced large budget deficits head on. We've lowered taxes and produced a budget surplus.
That's the kind of vision and results people demand and that's the kind of vision and results we've delivered!
We all know our highways and roads were neglected for too long. For years, people paid for better roads. Unfortunately, we didn't get them.
We're putting an end to that. Finally, we're putting the money you and I pay at the gas pump where it belongs Ð in the roads. We're investing in our roads and it's showing.
We're finally doing something about the Masonic Temple after 70 years of neglect by turning it into a luxury hotel. Even the New York Times highlighted our progress in a recent article.
And we're finally restoring out magnificent State House.
As we applaud the progress we're making at the State House, let's be equally proud of the work we're doing to preserve our parks and beaches, our colleges and universities.
We're putting much needed investment in every single one of these treasures.
We can't afford not to. And on a personal note, as a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, a school that I am so very proud of, I'm asking you to join with me this evening in putting together a public-private partnership to build a new and much needed gymnasium at the University of Rhode Island.
And Marilyn and I want to be the first two Rhode Islanders to make a personal contribution of $1000 towards that goal. And I challenge every URI alum and the people of Rhode Island to join me in making this dream for our State University a reality.
As we invest in the bricks and mortar in our state, we're also investing in the heart and soul of our state Ð our people.
We reformed welfare. We're moving people from dependence to independence. More Rhode Island families are working. Caseloads are down.
I am so proud as your Governor, working with the members of the General Assembly, that we have helped these families find independence.
We're seeing success because we took bold measures. We're making sure that all kids have access to health care and that working families have safe, quality child care readily available to them. These are the programs families want and need, and we're providing them.
Our investment in health care is paying off. Under Rite care, more women are getting proper prenatal care. Child immunization rates continue to increase. Infant mortality has been reduced.
In just two short years, the number of low birth weight babies in our capital city has been cut in half.
Virtually every child in Rhode Island has access to health coverage.
My goal as we enter the next century is to have health care readily available to 100% of our kids. Please join me in making this happen.
Working together we've proven that we can tackle even the biggest challenges. Last year we set education reform in motion by passing legislation to prepare our schools for the 21st century.
We can now measure the success or failure of school systems right down to the neighborhood school.
If a school isn't measuring up, we need to know it and we will work with them to improve.
We can also learn from schools that do measure up.
While we strive to improve education in Rhode Island, we can never forget that we have many talented students in our schools right now. Let's never lose sight of that.
Just two days ago I was at a really to cheer on Rhode Island's academic decathlon teams. These kids want to learn and they want to succeed.
Tonight I want to recognize a group of students who are studying hard and achieving great results. Middletown High School students worked with their teachers and with engineers from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center to build a robot. You should have seen their robot. It was very impressive and it won an award for the best design in the nation.
These students are proof positive that we have 21st century thinkers in our schools. These are the engineers and scientists of tomorrow. These are some of the students that will help make Rhode Island's future bright. They are also proof that our community does care and wants to be involved. I want to thank the engineers and teachers for helping these students.
I'd like to ask the students, their teachers and a special recognition to Captain Lougue, to please stand and be recognized.
All Rhode Island parents share our common goal. We always want our children and our grandchildren to be able to live and work in Rhode Island.
For years that seemed like an impossible dream as many Rhode Island manufacturing companies went south in search of lower costs and better conditions. The good news is we're turning that around and bringing lost jobs back to Rhode Island. Amtrol and Hope Webbing Company are proof positive of that fact.
When Amtrol changed hands last year, I met with the new management team to show them the benefits of remaining in Rhode Island Ð a great workforce, a more friendly business climate, and training for employees.
We've been home to Amtrol for more than five decades, but we knew they could have moved their operations anywhere in the nation.
There was no way I was going to let this happen. We did our part, and we convinced them to stay. In keeping them here, we had a lot of help from the employees who trained and improved their skills. I appreciate their help.
This was a big win for Rhode Island because Amtrol is not only remaining in Rhode Island, they're moving their Tennessee plant here.
Let's also give a hand to Hope Webbing Company. This company recently announced plans to expand its manufacturing operations in our state by moving a South Carolina plant to Cumberland. This means more than 200 new jobs for Rhode Islanders. These are great success stories for out state.
I can't think of a better way to enter the 21st century than with the job announcements and the business expansions we've seen over the past three years.
With great vision and enthusiastic energy, let's talk about the 21st century. When I think about the years to come I think about our children. My children. My grandchildren. Your children.
It's our job to give these kids a brighter future. That's why I'm proud to serve on the National Governor's Task Force on Early Childhood.
Our mission is to study federal and state policies and their impact on our children from birth to age 3. We've learned that this is the most important period in their development.
That's why I'm proud to announce my ambitious and visionary plan called Starting Right. This plan will make Rhode Island far and away the number one state in America when it comes to helping kids get the most out of the first three years of life.
Many children this age have one thing in common. They're in day care.
As our workforce continues to change, child care has become the single most important issue facing working families.
Any mother or father whose child is in day care can relate to this. That's why we've already made Rhode Island the only state that offers an entitlement to safe, quality, affordable child care.
Many of our employers are small businesses.
We are a small business state.
These businesses can't afford to set up day care centers on their own. We've got to help them and that's what I intend to do.
For starters, we need to help small businesses create partnerships with others and child care centers to expand day care.
The centerpiece of my Starting Right program is the dramatic expansion of our child care entitlement. That's something we can all be proud of.
I'm proud to announce that this plan will help give child care to middle class working families earning as much as $47 thousand dollars a year.
That means nearly 11 thousand new families will be eligible for this assistance. That's something we can all be proud of.
As we set out to create a better child care system, the key will be ensuring that when our kids are in day care, they're learning.
This Starting Right plan will also provide grants and assistance to child care centers to help them expand and improve programs.
Also, the Starting Right plan will create more after school programs for kids up to the age of sixteen. This was one of the key recommendations of my Juvenile Justice Task Force, which found that teenagers get into the most trouble in the hours immediately after school. Instead of putting kids at risk, let's give them something meaningful to do.
I've had a lot of help in purring the Starting Right plan together. Next week I'll be joining those who took part in the Danforth Foundation conference to further detail this plan. I thank them for their help and look forward to making this plan a reality.
In March I'll be convening a statewide Child Care Summit to mobilize support from our entire community to meet our child care goals.
One of the reasons child care is so important to me is that we must ensure that our kids enter school ready to learn.
Once our kids are in school it's our responsibility to give them an education that prepares them for the future.
This is perhaps our greatest challenge and one that will take our greatest efforts, energy and vision.
We took a giant step forward last year to make our schools better. We worked with Representative Paul Crowley, Senator Michael Lenihan, and many others to enact landmark education reform.
This gave us a comprehensive education strategy that had three simple goals: First, address the equity issue. Second, raise academic standards. And third, strengthen accountability for every school.
Let's look at the equity issue. All students deserve a quality education.
It's our responsibility to make that happen and it will happen if we take the equity issue seriously. Let's face it. Urban schools have more students from families in need.
They've got more students who don't use English as their primary language. They've got more students from single parent families.
That's why I have consistently pushed for more education aid to urban schools. Let's stay the course.
Now let's talk about raising students' academic standards. We need to do more to help out kids perform better.
We've started this process by introducing rigorous testing of fourth, eighth and tenth grade students. We can't just give out kids a multiple-choice exam. We're now requiring that our students be able to read a problem, organize their thoughts, solve the problem and show their work.
Results from these tests indicate that we have a long way to go in making sure that our kids leave school ready to work. Is it acceptable that only one third of 10th graders tested had the ability to write a persuasive essay? That's not acceptable to me.
Is it acceptable that only 25 percent of 10th graders had the math skills to solve real life math problems? Of course not. That's not acceptable to me and that should not be acceptable to any parent, teacher or student.
There are those who'll say we're asking too much of our kids. I say for far too long we haven't asked enough.
Let me make something perfectly clear. We can't fault our students if we don't challenge them. And the students I've met welcome this challenge.
That's why everyone must step up to the plate to make our schools better.
One of the best ways to help kids get the most out of school is to give them a good start. I will set aside $1 million of state education aid for school districts to develop full day kindergarten and to implement preschool programs.
We also need to give our teachers the tools to help them improve their skills so they can meet the challenge of educating a new generation of students.
I will set aside an additional $1 million for teacher training.
Just as engineers can help students build robots, we need to help our students read.
As Governor, one of the things I love doing most is visiting our classrooms with my wife, Marilyn, to read to our kids. It's fun. It's gratifying. And it's important.
I want to commend Lieutenant Governor Jackvony for doing his part by launching Rhode Island Reads, which brings various community leaders into our classrooms.
I urge everyone to join them. It is fun and it does help.
Think about the classroom.
What's the single most important part of any classroom in America? The teacher. I'm sure we all remember that special teacher who inspired us to expand our horizons and succeed.
To honor the special role teachers play in our lives, I'm pleased to introduce a teacher who clearly has had an enormous impact on her students.
This teacher has taught for 27 years in the East Providence School System. She embodies exactly what we need in our teachers. She sets high standards. She challenges her students to meet them. And most of all, she cares.
There's nothing more we could as from a teacher.
Please welcome Rhode Island's 1997 Teacher of the Year, Maureen Whalen Spaight. Thank you Maureen.
Just as urban education is important, so is creating jobs in our urban areas. You've heard me say it a million times. There's no problem that can't be solved by a good job. Let's encourage businesses in enterprise zones to help people who live there by giving them expanded tax credits.
We must continue the process of tax reform. We started with the income tax cut to make Rhode Island more competitive.
We moved the gas tax and we lowered the business taxes.
Now we need to address the single most important regressive tax in Rhode Island Ð the property tax.
As I travel around our state, people tell me all the time, Governor, do something about that property tax. I am going to do something. Next week I'll unveil my plans to provide long overdue property tax relied to Rhode Island homeowners.
To the members of the General Assembly, I urge you to join me in this effort.
Let's talk about our environment.
We're so fortunate to be an ocean state. One of the things Marilyn and I love to do is spend time on the beach.
Rhode Islanders love their parks, bike paths, beaches, and open spaces. We have a responsibility to preserve these natural treasures for future generations.
We've done a great job in protecting our environment. But we can always do more.
That's why I am pleased to announce that I'll be seeking a $15 million bond to continue our expansion of bike paths, greenways and open space.
One of the biggest challenges facing Rhode Island in the next century will be the continued aging of our population.
Rhode Island has the 3rd highest percentage of people who are 65 and over. Our parents and out grandparents want to live independently for as long as they can. It's our job to help them do that.
I know how important independence is for our parents. My mom is 87 years of age, and she lives independently.
Let's make sure that thousands of people like my mom can continue to enjoy their independence.
We are already offering alternatives to nursing homes. That's the right thing to do.
We've ever moved a number of patients out of nursing homes to assisted living arrangements.
We must do even more to help our seniors lead more fulfilling lives.
That's why I'm pleased to announce that I'll be asking voters to approve a bond issue to create a new Center on Aging.
This facility will serve as the new home for the Department of Elderly affairs at the Howard Complex in Cranston.
This state-of-the-art Center on Aging will include an information and referral network that will link the facility with senior centers, elderly housing complexes, community agencies and even individuals through the Internet.
This new facility will house a consumer education center offering seminars and workshops.
It will have a library and clearinghouse on aging, which will be the first of its kind in our state.
Let me say in closing that just as Rhode Island led the nation into the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island can lead our nation into the 21st century.
We've got the energy, the vision, and the commitment, to give Rhode Islanders the best health care, the best child care, the best education, the best business climate and the very best quality of life in America.
I know this is the future Rhode Islanders want. It's a future I want to lead us to.
I thank the people of Rhode Island for their support and assistance and for giving me the privilege and honor of serving as your Governor. But our work is not done.
Together, let's continue to make great things happen for Rhode Island. Thank you, and good evening.