Good afternoon! It’s a pleasure to be with you to sign the 2016 budget – our first one together.
I’m so grateful for the hard work of Speaker Mattiello, Senate President Paiva Weed, and members of the Finance Committees and General Assembly that led us here today.
The budget I presented in March was rooted in the core belief that every hardworking family deserves the chance to make it in Rhode Island. Despite starting with a nearly $200M deficit, this budget is balanced, involves no broad based tax increases, and calls for significant investments in economic growth and education.
From the start, the three of us agreed that our number-one priority had to be jumpstarting our economy and creating jobs. And we got it done. You are wonderful partners. Thank you for your dedication and leadership.
While our turnaround won't happen overnight, we have moved swiftly to help Rhode Islanders who are struggling right now. We raised the minimum wage to $9.60 an hour, because no one who works full time should have to raise their family in poverty. We expanded the earned income tax credit, because we want to encourage hard work and help put more money into working families’ pockets. And we eliminated state taxes on Social Security benefits for low and middle income seniors.
This budget also sets us on a longer-term path to our comeback by focusing on three things:
These three principles – and an unwavering focus on creating jobs and expanding opportunity - guided our every decision.
Helping people build the skills they need is one of the best investments we can make. I hear weekly from employers who are looking for talented staff and who say that a skilled workforce is their number one priority.
This plan looks to fill that need at every rung of the ladder:
But we know that students can’t learn in crumbling school buildings. So we’ve created a new School Building Authority to put people to work while modernizing schools.
And that’s not the only way we’re putting shovels in the ground to create jobs. We also worked with Treasurer Magaziner to establish the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.
We’ve also put our state back in the game by making it easier and less expensive to do business in Rhode Island. In addition to our economic development tools, like tax credits for companies that create jobs here, we:
Finally, we are moving on an economic development strategy that will turn heads, change perceptions, and put Rhode Island back in the game. We’ve made significant investments in economic development tools designed to help attract and grow companies so that they will put people to work in Rhode Island.
We have done this too by providing certainty and predictability to businesses by controlling costs.
Currently, Rhode Island has the second highest per enrollee Medicaid cost of any state in the country -- which is 60 percent higher than the national average. This budget takes steps to address that, and to begin positioning Rhode Island as a leader in health innovation. The budget provides more than $70 million in state savings from Reinventing Medicaid and incentivizes hospitals and nursing homes to offer better care at a better value for Rhode Islanders.
And it locks in our pension reforms, providing retirement security for thousands of public employees and retirees by approving the pension settlement.
We’re in the early stages of a great comeback for Rhode Island. We can only be successful if everyone pitches in, and we still have a lot of work left to do. And this budget is proof that when we do pitch in together we make great progress.
Everyone had a role to play -- cabinet officials, the dedicated team in the budget office, Chairman Gallison and the House Finance Committee, Chairman Da Ponte and the Senate Finance Committee, all the members of the House and Senate, and of course Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed. Everyone rolled up their sleeves to lay the foundation for a comeback.
Make no mistake, we have a lot of work left to do. Our problems weren’t created overnight, and they won’t be solved with one budget.
The people of Rhode Island are counting on us: families who are unemployed or under-employed; children who are depending on a good education as a ladder to the middle class; and citizens who rightfully expect better results from their government.
I look forward to continuing to work together with all of you on the hard work ahead to make RI’s recovery a reality and put our state on a path to a brighter future. Thank you!