By Anita Baffoni WPRO News
Rhode Island has a lot of momentum going into 2017 according to Governor Gina Raimondo, who says the state is in store for more job opportunities next year.
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW
“I’m trying to create as many jobs of all different kinds as I can,” Raimondo said while sitting in her office at the State House. “Rhode Island today is much more prosperous and vibrant, and people have more opportunity than a year ago. We are going into the new year with a great deal of momentum.”
This past week, the Governor made two significant jobs announcements with Wexford Science and Technology and Virgin Pulse, bringing more than 2,300 new jobs. A third jobs agreement with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson will be announced today.
Raimondo says more is to come in 2017.
“I want more jobs at every level. I don’t want anyone to feel insecure,” she said.
“The wind is at our back which hasn’t been for a long time. I feel optimistic and I’m ready to roll. I’ve had energy to keep pounding away for the people of Rhode Island.”
A major highlight in Governor Raimondo’s administration was the approval of RhodeWorks in the General Assembly. The goal is to fund bridge and road repairs with a toll on large commercial trucks.
The Rhode Island Trucking Association has said tolls on trucks could result in “potential legal consequences” and offered an alternative plan that relies on an increase of truck registration fees and a diesel tax.
Raimondo isn’t too concerned with attempts to block implementation—instead she is focusing on what’s in store for the new year.
“You can expect to see more road work happening, fewer pot holes, safer bridges and we are going to execute on the plan now that we have the funding stream,” Raimondo said. “We’re going to continue to put the money out there to repave, more bridge work, more road work and hopefully start on the 6/10 Connector.”
As far as concerns about putting tolls on cars in the future as some Republicans are predicting, “It’s not going to happen. Don’t worry about it, I won’t support it,” she said.
Struggles of the Administration
It hasn’t been the best year for Raimondo and her administration. The botched “Cooler, Warmer” tourism rollout, delayed state income tax returns, and problems with UHIP, the state’s new computer system, that is causing major delays in the disbursement in benefits to Rhode Islanders. All are some of examples of major issues Raimondo was faced with in 2016.
Once the online benefits system went live in September, thousands were affected by glitches and problems with the rollout. The Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union is now suiting the state with a class action lawsuit on delayed food assistance to qualified recipients. This is a dire situation for some, as the RI ACLU explained, however it doesn’t warrant an “emergency session” as one outgoing lawmaker suggested, according to Raimondo.
“It’s still not perfect. We still have lines. We still have issues. It’s frustrating for me because I think people deserve better but it’s a transition period,” Raimondo said. “A couple months from now, I think the system will be working well and people will be getting better service. I think the worst is behind us.”
She recognized a mistake in laying off 70 workers before the changeover to the $364 million technology system to verify eligibility for social service programs.
“The team shouldn’t have done the layoffs. They should have kept the people through the rollout because it’s clear we needed more manpower to do it properly,” Raimondo said.
The Specter of 38 Studios
Another highlight of 2016 is 38 Studios and the announcement of no criminal charges in the gaming company’s collapse. Raimondo, who once called for an independent investigation into the controversial deal, has backed off that promise. But she says if she could, she would.
“I’m going to go to the court as soon as we settle the case or when the trial is over and ask for permission to release everything. Right now I can’t. I’d be breaking the law if I did it,” she said. “People deserve to see everything. Period. Put sunshine on it. It’s the only way we as a state will get past it. It’s a terrible mistake. It’s a stain. Let everybody see everything.”
Working with President-elect Trump
The presidential election didn’t go as planned for Rhode Island’s leadership as they were confident Hillary Clinton will become the President of the United States. In fact, Raimondo, as a super-delegate voted against who won in the state’s primary election, Bernie Sanders, at the Democratic National Convention.
Raimondo said she is willing to work with President-elect Donald Trump for the benefit of the people.
As a Governor and as a mother, Raimondo says she is concerned for policies that Trump may be implementing or repealing, including Obamacare, which many Rhode Islanders are enrolled in.
She said 95 percent of Rhode Islanders have healthcare and 97 percent of children are covered. Without the Affordable Care Act, Raimondo explained it would be detrimental to the health of all enrolled.
“Every child deserves health coverage,” she said.
Recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts after voters approved it as a bond question. Raimondo says Rhode Island needs to take another look at following Massachusetts’ lead.
“We need to look into because it’s coming to us. Attleboro and Seekonk are right around the corner,” she said. “I have a lot of concerns with legalizing recreational marijuana. As a mother I worry about marijuana products getting into the hands of our kids.”
2018 and Reelection
Raimondo isn’t just looking ahead to next year. On her radar is 2018 as she plans for re-election.
“It’s a lot of wood to chop for me to keep Rhode Island on a good path,” she said. “I’m planning on it at this point but it’s not something I really spend any time thinking about because I am relentless, as you said, about my job and making Rhode Island great for the people.”