The FY 2015 budget passed by the General Assembly, which I intend to sign into law, presents many of my initiatives and some modifications that are encouraging.
First and foremost, I was pleased that the debate on whether to pay the 38 Studios moral obligation bond ended with the right decision for Rhode Island. I have been unequivocal in my belief that we must honor our debts, however painful. Second, the General Assembly’s FY 2015 budget has a plan to eliminate the toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge by charging a 1-cent gas tax.
I have been adamant that absent tolling a reasonable alternative be reached. The reality is we cannot afford to see another bridge completely replaced — at great cost to taxpayers — because of a lack of maintenance.
I am heartened and commend the legislature for investing in education and our public schools. The budget retains the education aid formula and a tuition freeze for Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and University of Rhode Island. The $125 million voter bond to enhance URI’s College of Engineering complex will attract and retain talent and is another commendable investment in the future. With the approval of the lease for the Nursing Education Center, which will be headquartered in the former South Street Power Station, the budget buoys my long-term strategy to strengthen the “meds and eds” and grow our Knowledge District. In addition, the $1.5 million for workforce development is a meaningful commitment to worker training and closing the skills gap.
I was pleased that the voter bonds I had proposed were included in this year’s ballot. The bonds reflect important strategies to grow our economy through improving infrastructure and higher education; enlarging our arts and cultural economy; and protecting Rhode Island’s environment. By maintaining my proposed aid to cities and towns, we continue our work with the municipalities to reverse the damage caused by the previous administration.
Since taking office, I have proposed reducing the state’s corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 7 percent. I applaud the General Assembly for taking this step through combined reporting to make us more competitive.
We need to be mindful that with any budget we put forth, it must be focused on priorities and strategies that send a clear and consistent message far beyond our borders that we honor our commitments, and that the leaders in our state are doing all they can to make Rhode Island a great place to live and work.
Lincoln D. Chafee is the 74th governor of Rhode Island.