Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo continued her push for jobs and economic development Tuesday night in submitting her $8.96 billion budget for fiscal 2017.
"More remains to be done," Raimondo told the General Assembly in her State of the State speech in Providence. Her theme was "skills that matter, jobs that pay."
She proposed $30 million worth of annual reductions in unemployment insurance taxes for employers while repeating her intention to convert vacated Interstate 195 land near downtown Providence into a technology corridor.
The second-year governor also proposed five general obligation bond offerings for a November referendum. They total more than $230 million in borrowing and Raimondo said if passed, they would add more than 3,350 jobs, mostly in construction.
A $40 million bond, she said would renovate and modernize school facilities, notably those focused on immediate health and safety and those investing in STEAM learning – science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Other proposed GO bonds are $45.5 million for higher education; $35 million for green spaces and healthy communities; $70 million for the Quonset Port in North Kingstown; and $40 million for housing opportunities.
Moody's Investors Service rates Rhode Island GOs Aa2. Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's rate them AA.
The governor also appropriated $80 million for school construction and renovation, including $9.1 million for the Rhode Island School Building Authority, and pushed for each school to provide its budget online.
Raimondo, a one-term general treasurer before her election in November 2014, said cost-control measures and stronger revenues have improved the state's fiscal situation. She cited as a momentum boost the unemployment rate reduction as of December 2015 to 5.1%, the biggest-year-over-year drop of any state.
She said Rhode Island added 8,000 jobs last year, the highest annual gain since 2000.
Raimondo's budget is up 3% from the spending plan lawmakers passed last summer. The fiscal year starts July 1. She said her budget closes an estimated shortfall of $49.5 million, down from the $190.4 million she inherited when she took office in January 2015.
The budget, she said, includes no broad-based tax increases, although it would raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents to and invests "at record levels" in Rhode Island's educational system and workforce. It focuses on advanced industries and provides incentives, tax cuts and regulatory improvements to improve the state's business climate.
She urged lawmakers to pass her RhodeWorks plan to toll large trucks to pay for infrastructure repairs. The trucking industry strongly opposes the measure.
"Let's reject the politics of procrastination and pass the RhodeWorks bill. It's time to fix our roads and bridges," said Raimondo, who last week resubmitted the non-budgeted legislation after it stalled in the House of Representatives in 2015. "First-class jobs go to places with first-class infrastructure."
The Senate and House finance committees will hold public hearings on the toll proposal Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Rep. Anthony Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, is against the plan.
"They're talking about 14 tolling gantries in a tiny, tick-tack state like Rhode Island? I can't see how that can be a good thing for any business," he said.