Gov. Gina Raimondo called upon Rhode Island’s civic, business and government leaders to get behind her efforts to rebuild the state’s aging public schools – a five-year $1 billion investment – and a $48.5 million Green Economy and Clean Water bond issue.
Both need approval from the state legislature before going to voters in the November election.
Speaking at Grow Smart Rhode Island’s Power of Place Summit, Raimondo told the 500 attendees that “it’s time” to invest in the state’s public schools.
“We’ve done zero in 20 years,” she said, mentioning conditions she found visiting schools in Portsmouth, and particularly Rogers High School in Newport.
“Our kids deserve it, teachers deserve it,” she said. “Every kid deserves (to be in a school) that is warm, safe and dry.”
According to a report from the Rhode Island Department of Education late last year it would cost $627 million alone to bring the state’s schools up to a safe level, and $2.2 billion to bring all schools up to good condition.
The governor was also touting the Green Economy Bond to an audience that is clearly committed to such projects. Grow Smart believes in sustainable growth, preserving farmland and open space, while promoting renewable energy sources and mass transportation.
“Smart Growth is not just about land and buildings,” said Scott Wolf, Smart Growth’s executive director. “It’s about people.”
“Investing in parks, bike paths, open space, pedestrian bridges,” Raimondo said. “People want to work in a community in which they live”
Wolf, in a separate interview, said among the features of the Green Economy Bond is $4 million for the Brownfields program that helps fund reclamation of some of Rhode Island’s historic mill buildings. Additionally, the bond includes $5 million to improve the state’s bikeway system, and funds to preserve farmland an open space.
The governor came to the meeting touting what she characterized as a state that was turning its economy around.
“I feel very uplifted where we are as a state,” she said. “We started in a hole,” she said, with the highest unemployment rate in the country that’s now “at or below the national average.”
She talked about a 10-year infrastructure program, the $4 to $5 billion Road Works plan, the proposed Central Falls/Pawtucket train station, and her support for a Providence transit hub.
Raimondo also noted, as she has over the last several days, a Business Insider ranking that said Rhode Island’s economy is the ninth strongest in the nation, up from 34th a year ago. That ranking, published in March, she said put a lot of emphasis on wage growth.
“I am totally fired up to what we’re doing – doing together,” she said.
Business Insider, however, produces rankings regularly. And two other March rankings placed Rhode Island much lower on its lists.
One of those surveys listed the “15 U.S. States where young people are moving in, jobs are plentiful, and business booming.” Rhode Island was not among the 15 states. The two New England states on the list were New Hampshire at 13th and Massachusetts fifth.
Another survey ranked the states “where American Dream cold become a reality, ranked from most likely to least.” Here, Rhode Island finished 34th, noting that it ranked 23rd for economic opportunity, 30th for equality, and 42nd for affordability.