PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has placed a school construction initiative among her top priorities for 2018, and said “no department will be spared” as she works to close a budget deficit.
The Democratic governor, speaking to The Associated Press in her annual year-end interview, said she also supports the continued phaseout of the car tax.
A school infrastructure task force this month recommended the state borrow $500 million to repair schools by 2022. Raimondo said she hasn’t fully examined the recommendation yet, and doesn’t yet know what she’ll suggest. But she said she’s made visits to schools around the state that have leaky roofs and falling tiles, and said government owes it to kids to make sure they can learn in a safe environment.
“I absolutely support the need for a very significant investment in rebuilding our schools. We’ve neglected our schools, and we need a generational investment for our kids,” she said.
With interest rates low, she said now is a good time to issue bonds for a long-term investment.
The state faces deficits of $60 million this fiscal year and $200 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
With one third of the state budget being spent on Medicaid, some cuts will have to come out of that program, she said.
“I don’t want to touch eligibility, so we have to get more efficient in the way we provide care,” she said, adding, “There’s going to be cuts everywhere. Probably no department will be spared.”
Raimondo said state government is going to have to be very flexible in light of uncertainty in Washington, and said she was “extremely worried” about what the president and Congress will do.
“They just keep cutting and hurting Rhode Islanders,” she said.
The phaseout of the car tax has been a top priority of Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Raimondo said she will continue to support it this year, even in a tough budget year.
“It’s a very burdensome tax for the average Rhode Islander, and I’d like to continue to give folks a break,” Raimondo said. “I plan to take a hard look the year after next,” when a measure to monitor the impact of the phaseout kicks in.
Raimondo continues to support a proposal before the legislature to help build a new stadium for the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in Pawtucket. She said it could spur economic development in Pawtucket and called it important.
“It would be sad to lose the PawSox,” she said.
How important is it? While she backs the plan, she said it’s not her top economic development priority. That designation goes to her continuing focus on job training and skill development, she said.
Raimondo said she is generally in favor of allowing sports betting in the state, assuming the U.S. Supreme Court in a pending case strikes down a federal law that bans it in most places. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has been a longtime supporter of such legislation, and several states already are taking steps to allow it if the federal law is struck down.
“I think other states are going to,” Raimondo said. “I don’t want to be left out, and left behind.”