PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday she will sign an executive order that aims to make the state the first in the nation to be powered completely by renewable energy by the end of the decade.
In the annual State of the State speech to lawmakers, the Democratic governor called for addressing climate change “with urgency.” Rhode Island is the nation's leader in offshore wind, Raimondo said in prepared remarks, and there will be enough offshore wind energy to power half of the homes in the state in a few years. The first U.S. offshore wind farm began operating off Block Island in late 2016.
“It's time to set our sights higher,” Raimondo said.
The executive order, to be signed Friday, will set a goal for the electric grid to operate with 100% renewable energy by 2030. Raimondo will outline the path toward that goal on Friday, her office said.
Raimondo typically uses the speech before a joint session of the General Assembly to highlight the progress Rhode Island has made in recent years and outline her long-term vision and spending priorities. She wants to invest this year in job training programs, education, public transportation, affordable housing, beaches, and the state's child welfare system.
She's looking to spend $30 million more on education, to pay for curriculum improvements, advanced classes, support for students learning English, and mental health professionals in schools. She wants to increase the number of public pre-kindergarten slots and make the state's free tuition program permanent at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Raimondo did not go into detail about how all of these priorities would be paid for, though she did say she wants to pursue bonds to develop new business parks, build more housing and build more high-quality classrooms.
Further details will be discussed Thursday, when Raimondo submits her budget proposal for the new fiscal year to the General Assembly, according to her office. The state faces a roughly $200 million deficit for fiscal 2021.
House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, R-Block Island, said Republicans believe that lawmakers' primary civic duty must be to fix the education system, and that must take precedence over any other government programs and interest groups. Parents with children in low-performing schools should be empowered to transfer them to higher-performing schools within, or outside, their current district, Filippi said in prepared remarks for the response to Raimondo's address.
Republicans will also submit legislation to create “language academies” that focus on English proficiency, he added. Filippi is proposing to pay for these proposals, including transportation costs, with a new tax on universities and colleges related to their endowments.
“Let us come together now to build strong children, and in turn, a strong future for Rhode Island,” he said.
Raimondo has said she will continue to focus this legislative session on education, economic development and job training because they are interconnected.
She wants to raise the state's minimum wage. And she plans to try again to persuade the General Assembly to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and ban guns in schools, changes she views as essential for public safety.
She also renewed her call for the line-item veto: "Nearly every other state uses line item veto to reduce waste in government spending and corruption — and to ensure that tax dollars help all citizens, not just those with connections. Let’s restore Rhode Islanders’ confidence in government and put line item veto on the ballot."
Raimondo said she envisions a state where everyone is guaranteed the opportunity for an excellent education, and where public schools are thriving. With an educated workforce, she believes, the economy would boom. Furthermore, high-speed rail and electric buses would make for easy commutes, and gun violence would be reduced.
“We are on track to make this vision a reality and we're going to get there if we continue to invest in what works,” she said, according to the prepared remarks. “So, let's find the courage to stay on this path and strengthen our state for decades to come. This bright future is ours if we build it together.”
In last year's address, Raimondo also made the case for continued investments in job training, economic development incentives and education.