PROVIDENCE — The leading Democratic candidates for Rhode Island governor rolled out new policy initiatives this week that focused on growing the state’s struggling economy, fixing its aging infrastructure and boosting its “green energy” sector.
In his first major policy announcement of the campaign, political newcomer Clay Pell rolled out a wide-ranging economic strategy.
It includes proposals to institute an internship program for public high school students, develop a two-year trade mission to increase international opportunities for Rhode Island business and improve the state’s tourism marketing.
Pell said many of his ideas, including the $2.5 million internship program, don’t have steep price tags. Some can be accomplished through executive action, and all can be supported in an $8.5 billion state budget, he said.
“None of the proposals in this policy require raising taxes,” said Pell, a Coast Guard officer and former Obama administration official. “This is a question of priorities. This is a question of leadership.”
Pell also made a number of proposals to develop the marine trades and defense sectors, including having the University of Rhode Island and other groups work more closely with the defense industry on research, education and skills development.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the other two major Democrats competing to win the September primary, also unveiled campaign initiatives.
The first-term mayor highlighted a plan to create an “infrastructure trust” to provide low- or no-interest loans to cities and towns for road and bridge repairs. It would be funded through a $100 million bond and $40 million a year from the state found through savings identified in the budget. The trust would fund $800 million in projects over 15 years, Taveras said.
“Investing in infrastructure, we can get people back to work right now,” he said at a news conference in Central Falls.
The mayor said he would also encourage public-private partnerships to rebuild infrastructure.
Raimondo has proposed a similar infrastructure bank.
Meanwhile, Raimondo highlighted her plan for a “green bank” that would help municipalities prepare for the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
The green bank, which Raimondo first called for in her jobs plan, would help finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The bank would house a separate revolving fund to provide low-interest loans to cities and towns for climate change-related projects, including improved storm water drainage.
After a briefing at the Quonset Business Park on solar energy projects, Raimondo said Rhode Island could become a national leader in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change preparedness. She stressed that doing so will create jobs and help the economy.
In announcing his economic plan, Pell also said he wants to restore faith and confidence in state government. Speaking in Providence at a corporate wellness company founded by two former Brown University medical students, he said he believes Rhode Island’s political system is holding the state back.
“There is a culture here where it often matters more who you know than what you know,” Pell said, adding that he thinks it’s keeping people from investing here. “People look at what is a culture of politics as usual and cynicism, and they aren’t sure that this is a system of government that is open equally to all voices. I believe that the people of this state are worried about that as well.”