Rhode Island State of the State Address 2004

Providence, R.I., Feb. 3 Following is the full Text of Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's (R) 2004 state of the state address:

Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Speaker, members of the General Assembly, my fellow General Officers, members of the Judiciary, distinguished guests...my wife, Sue (our Rhode Island First Lady)...my mother, Marguerite...my family...and my fellow Rhode Islanders.

One year ago, I stood here before you as your newly-inaugurated Governor - a native Rhode Islander with a life-long love of our state, a newcomer to politics and public service. I talked about a renewed sense of optimism and pride in our future.

Tonight, I stand here much more seasoned - with a few more gray hairs and a thicker skin, and I'm more excited than ever about our state and it's potential.

My optimism remains undaunted. I have glimpsed what is so great about our state. I have witnessed the character, compassion and resilience of our people's soul. As the prophet Isaiah said, we have been "tested in the furnace of affliction."

2003 brought great tragedy and heartbreak to our state with the loss of one hundred lives and the injury of many more in the Station Night Club fire. Also sadly, we've lost eight Rhode Islanders in the war on terror, two in just the past week and a half.

And, we lost three members of the House of Representatives: Mabel Anderson, Steve Anderson and Paul Sherlock.

Please join me in a moment of silence to remember each and every one of them.

As the great leader Winston Churchill once remarked, "Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge."

Our state came together as never before in the aftermath of that hellish fire. We witnessed the heroics of firefighters, police officers, rescue workers, doctors, nurses and dentists. We saw the compassion of clergy, social workers and community volunteers. Their selfless actions made me extraordinarily proud to be a Rhode Islander.

Here tonight is a small group representing the hundreds of others who were on the front lines that night and the following days:

They are Anthony Bettencourt of the West Warwick Police Department, who was on duty at the Station Night Club, Lieutenant John Sullivan of the Coventry Police Department, State Troopers Peter Chabot, Christopher Schram and Richard Swanson. Doctor John McCue and nurse Jean Taylor of Kent County Hospital and Doctor Ar-let Kurch-uh-bask and nurse Jennifer Dunbar of Rhode Island Hospital.

I would also like to recognize the heroic work of state representatives Norman Landroche (a firefighter) and Peter Ginaitt (an EMT) who were among the first on the scene. Please join me in thanking them and the many others who epitomize the greatness of our human spirit.

Over the past twelve months, hundreds of Rhode Island National Guard and regular military troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They have answered the call to duty with distinction and dedication.

We're very proud of people like Senior Master Sergeant Robert Weber of the 282nd Combat Communications Squadron. He lives in Central Falls and has been a full-time member of the National Guard for 20+ years. Master Sergeant Weber is home on leave from Southwest Asia. Let's give him a big round of applause as he represents all of our fellow Rhode Islanders deployed overseas.

While our brave soldiers in uniform are making sacrifices, their families here at home are experiencing hardships. They're taking on extra responsibilities and shouldering many burdens alone.

Joining us in this Chamber are four remarkable women whose loved ones are overseas:

  • Sue Guadalupe of Bristol, whose husband is Sergeant Edward Guadalupe, of the 103rd Artillery,

  • Stacy Viens of Woonsocket whose husband is Sergeant Raymond Viens, also of the 103rd Field Artillery,

    LI>Jennifer Rose of Cranston whose husband is Sergeant Edward Rose of the 115th Military Police Company and

  • Jackie Dryer whose son is Specialist Luke Walker of the 115th Military Police.

Won't you please stand and be recognized?

It is your spirit of dedication and cooperation that should be the model for all of us ... to emulate as we face the challenges ahead.

American author Ralph Waldo Emerson challenges us: "Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead, where there is no path and leave a trail."

Tonight, as your Governor, I would like to blaze some new trails in what I call the four "Pathways to Prosperity": good jobs, good schools, good government and a good place to live.

The first pathway is good jobs. Let me start by saying that Rhode Island has performed comparatively well in the past year.

Our job growth for the year was actually positive, 800 jobs ....while the nation as a whole and the New England region actually lost jobs. In fact, in the month of December, the total job growth for the nation was only 1,000 --- 600 of which were in Rhode Island.

How about that? By my calculations, Little Rhody produced 60 percent of the job growth in this country.

Tourism, financial services, health care and our major manufacturers are the foundation of the economy. We will continue to support their growth and success.

Last year, with the support of this General Assembly, we implemented a jobs package to support my goal to create 20,000 net new jobs over 4 years.

These investments are paying off. Amgen is investing $1 billion in our state and will employ more than 1,500 people in high paying jobs. We need more Amgens, and we thank them for being here.

Building on this success, our strategy emphasizes the life sciences and biotechnology.

This year, we are proposing two new initiatives to accelerate this plan. The first is a collaborative effort between public and private universities to attract millions of dollars from the National Science Foundation to create a world class research capacity here in Providence.

The second initiative will be the creation of a Marine Life Sciences Park at Quonset Point.

This park will pursue new business opportunities in technologies for the rapidly growing aquaculture industry. Joint venture discussions are underway with a number of interested parties. To support the growth of business and jobs in our state, we need to continue upgrading our infrastructure. To that end, we have three new strategies.

One, I am accelerating four major highway and bridge programs, which will greatly expand our economy and create jobs:

1. the relocation of I-195 in Providence,

2. new Washington Bridge,

3. completion of the Route 403 connector to Quonset Point, and

4. a new Sakonnet River Bridge.

All of these projects, an investment of almost $700 million (82% federal) when completed, will unleash great economic potential throughout our state.

Second, I am proposing a major investment in Quonset Point: $48 million to transform it from a decayed military base to a modern technology park, superior to any other in the region.

There are exciting things happening at Quonset, and we need to prepare it to become a major job generator.

Third, we need to ensure that T.F. Green Airport continues to be an engine for our economy. It must be competitive as an alternative to Boston. To do that, we must:

1. extend the runway to accommodate coast-to-coast flights and;

2. build the intermodal facility that will connect a new train station to the airport.

With these two completed, T.F. Green will be the most convenient, efficient, and progressive airport in the region, if not the country.

Let me turn now to the second pathway, good schools. Good schools underpin not only our economy, but the social fabric of our lives. Well educated young people become productive adults.

Unfortunately, our elementary and secondary schools continue to under-perform both nationally and regionally.

Yet our spending on elementary and secondary education is among the highest in the nation (7th). There is an obvious disconnect here.

We are working on a number of initiatives to improve this performance. I'll mention just 6:

1. In the past year new standards have been instituted for reading and math in grades three through eight.

2. I initiated with the Department of Education the establishment of minimum standards of achievement for high school graduation.

3. We passed legislation requiring higher standards for teacher certification and professional expertise.

4. Moving forward, I have called for developing teams of specialists in math and reading to assist the school districts with teacher training.

5. I'm very enthused about beginning a new principal training and mentoring program to provide the future leadership for our schools.

6. The Board of Regents has proposed a longer school day for some districts. This will provide more class time for students and more professional development time for teachers.

These initiatives are all about one thing...kids!!!

And talking about the kids, last Monday I visited Hope High School again. You'll recall that last year, I challenged us ---- state and city --- to improve the performance of Hope and allocated $600,000 of state money to fund it. Well, I am here to tell you that the Hope I saw last Monday is a different place, with a different attitude and spirit, and kids more excited than ever.

This is a result of the joint dedication and effort of the teachers, administrators, staff and students.

The directors of Hope's three new learning communities, under the leadership of Principal Nancy Mullen, have brought knowledge, expertise and talent to these new and smaller learning environments.

Whether it's developing partnerships with RISD and CCRI, or ensuring discipline and motivation, all of the directors and teachers have exhibited devotion to moving Hope forward.

Here tonight are Principal Mullen, the three directors --Carrie Glenn, Nikolika Own-yeah, Paul Nichols and student Linda Juliao (Julio, a member of the School Improvement Team) Please join me in applauding their efforts and commitment.

I am so convinced by what Hope has accomplished in a year, I intend to challenge us again, to do the same in Providence's other high schools. In addition to continuing the Hope investment of $600,000, I plan to budget another $1 million for the other schools.

Public charter schools are another great success story in our state.

At present, we have 10 such schools, enrolling 1,700 students - mostly from urban areas. Here tonight, we have two of our charter schools represented: the Textron Chamber Academy, under the leadership of CEO Rick Landau, and the New England Laborers Construction Career Academy, under Dr. Michael Silvia.

Adam Adamo is a 10th grade student at the Career Academy.

And, Ishmail Lovett is a 10th grade student at the Textron Chamber Academy. Both are excelling at their new schools.

Rick Landau, Dr. Michael Silvia, Adam Adamo and Ishmail Lovett are here this evening. Please stand and be recognized.

In the coming year, I intend to fully fund these public charter schools. Further, I will propose legislation to remove the current limitation on the permitted number of charter schools in our communities. Providence is already at the allotted maximum of four and there are many more possible, which will provide greater opportunities for our urban children.

I believe that one of the reasons for the disconnect between our spending and performance, is that our local school committees have little financial accountability.

While their expenditures represent the largest part of municipal budgets, their contract negotiations and decisions are completely separate.

I intend to propose legislation that will require school committees to be accountable to local municipal governments.

Now let me turn to higher education. Contrary to elementary and secondary-where our spending is among the highest in the nation-in higher education ... our investment is among the lowest (44th).

I believe there is a direct connection between economic development and the vibrancy of higher education. Private institutions have been investing and prospering, while the state has been under-investing. Although we will continue to support RIC and CCRI, URI is uniquely positioned in the biosciences, pharmacology, engineering and marine sciences. It's time to invest in these sciences for the jobs of the 21st century.

I have asked the Commissioner of Higher Education to work with URI in the development of a five year investment plan to substantially upgrade our scientific capability, especially in the area of graduate research.

As a first installment, I am moving forward with the new $50 million Bioscience Building.

I am asking the General Assembly to put a bond referendum on the ballot in November and I encourage all Rhode Islanders to support it.

Additionally, I ask the General Assembly to eliminate personnel restrictions for independently-funded research.

This is critical to building our scientific expertise... and does not involve state taxpayer money.

Let me turn now to the third pathway "good government." In my inaugural address, I articulated four principles that summarize good government. Good government is: empathetic, accessible, competent and ethical.

Empathetic means responsiveness and sensitivity to our citizens. As a state, we have shown great compassion to the most vulnerable.

Rhode Island's health and human service programs are the best in the country. This is a credit to our state.

Again this winter, the combined efforts of the public and private sectors, especially faith-based communities, rose to the challenge of providing shelter for the homeless.

This past year also saw a vast improvement in night-to-night placement of adolescents.

Due to the hard work of DCYF staff and provider partners, the last six months has seen the lowest incidence of these placements since consistent record keeping began in July of 1987.

Good government is also accessible. I have made it a personal goal of my administration to be accessible to citizens, legislators, employees and yes, the media.

My monthly Open Door Thursdays continue to this day. I have also instructed my staff to err on the side of openness regarding public records. We are removing the barriers that have obstructed the public's right to information about government.

Opening all of our activities to public scrutiny is the surest way to build public confidence. Good Government is also competent. This means controlling spending, not raising taxes and running state government more "business-like."

State spending has not been under control. Rhode Island has suffered three years of structural deficits of over $200 million per year. Those gaps were plugged by pulling rabbits out of the hat: one-time windfalls.

Well, the hat's empty, and this year the hard choices are here. Taxpayers have had to adjust their spending to reflect the realities of small wage increases and rising health care and property taxes. They expect their government to do the same. To close this deficit, we must cut our spending. Later this month, I will be submitting my budget for fiscal year 2005. It will require sacrifices and it will not raise any broad-based taxes.

We can further reduce spending by doing a better job of running government. By now you've all heard of Fiscal Fitness. Well, eight months ago, we started an intensive review of state government --- an outgrowth of the "Big Audit." We assembled a team of 55 state employees drawn from virtually every executive department to study ways to reduce costs and streamline operations. It's a kind-of overhaul for the long haul.

The team analyzed 350 ideas, hundreds of emails and hotline calls and thousands of documents. They have produced a comprehensive report detailing some 140 recommended actions, which when fully implemented, will reduce our spending by $180 million per year. In the next five years, these actions will save taxpayers $650 million.

These recommendations include major organizational changes, overhead consolidations, personnel benefit reforms, and operational improvements. This implementation will be the most comprehensive change in state government operations in decades and will take 18 months to complete.

One of the recommendations I intend to implement this year is a co-sharing of health care premiums.

Unlike most Rhode Islanders, state employees do not currently share the cost of their premiums. Beginning July 1, all non-union state employees will receive a 2% wage increase, and will initially pay 7% of their health care premiums. The share will increase to 15% over three years.

I would like thank each member of the Fiscal Fitness team for their outstanding service to the taxpayers of Rhode Island. Some members of this team are with us this evening.

They're indicative of the many hardworking state employees across all of state government. Please join me in giving the Fiscal Fitness team a round of applause.

Beginning tomorrow, I will be briefing the leaderships of the General Assembly, labor and business.

Following those briefings, the full report will be made public. This will be an enormous effort requiring cooperation by all of us. But the effort will be worth it - the potential is huge.

It is possible to run government more business-like.

Last year, I said we would fix the DMV. I am happy to report tonight that we have succeeded. Recently, Sue and I took our grandchildren to see a Lewis & Clark movie at the IMAX. Based upon the horror stories about the DMV, even Lewis & Clark would have gotten lost there.

But, we changed that. We installed greeters, we launched on-line renewals, we cleaned up the offices, we allowed AAA to service their members, and we are putting auto dealers on-line to register cars directly. We are transforming DMV into an efficient customer-friendly place.

Good government must also be ethical. This is, by far, the most important principle. Without it, everything else unravels. I know this is an uncomfortable topic, yet it is one we must come to grips with and confront head on. I believe most of us in this chamber tonight uphold high ethical standards and serve the people honestly and with great respect.

But right now, the people's confidence and trust has been badly shaken. The revelations of the past months have ignited outrage and cynicism. And this is not a partisan issue. As state leaders, we are all painted with the same brush because of the actions of some. It reflects poorly on all of us and on our state.

Two weeks ago, I proposed to create a Select Commission on Public Integrity. I believe we cannot address this situation piece-meal, with a patch here and a patch there. We need a comprehensive, independent review.

We need to review the Ethics Commission and develop more extensive measures concerning financial disclosure requirements.

We need to define more tightly, conflict of interest situations between elected officials and their sources of employment or support. This can only be done with a thorough, independent process.

When all is said and done, ethics is as much about personal conduct as it is about rules.

I thank the many legislators, both Republican and Democrat, who have come forward to support this proposal. I ask the entire General Assembly to join me in this effort.

We must come together as we did last year in passing the historic SEPARATION OF POWERS amend-ment. You deserve great credit for enacting a Constitutional Amendment that will have profound positive impact on the way our government operates. It was an unselfish act which put good government first. For that, the people of our state thank you.

Finally, the fourth pathway; a "good place to live." We are all here in Rhode Island because we love it. It is a good place to live.

By the way, in case you haven't noticed, we are being discovered by the rest of the world! That is dramatically reflected in the rapid increase of real estate prices, as well as the surge in development. Managing this growth to maintain our attractiveness will take great care and diligence.

This past year, we had a poignant reminder of the fragility of our most precious natural resource, Narragansett Bay. It is the heart and soul of what makes our state special. Last summer, the major fish kill in Greenwich Bay, the beach closures, and the noxious odors in Conimicut were a wake-up call that we have much work ahead to nurture our Bay's health.

In September, I announced the creation of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed Planning Commission chaired by former Governor J. Joseph Garrahy. I have charged this unprecedented body with developing a long term strategic plan for the Bay and its watershed. There are 160 people representing many groups, already at work.

There is no more important environmental initiative than preserving the health and vitality of Narragansett Bay.

As I talk with people throughout our state, I hear two concerns voiced over and over: health care costs and property taxes.

Both are complex problems with no easy, short-term solutions. We are, however, working on both of them.

To reduce health care costs, we need to examine all parts of the system: the insurers, the providers, our usage, prescription drug costs, and tort reform.

I am creating a senior-level, health policy advisor reporting directly to me to identify immediate opportunities for relief. I have also assembled a group of community leaders to work with us to address the major cost drivers that are causing the escalating premiums.

The Department of Health is investigating the feasibility of Canadian drug purchases, as well as rule changes to encourage more insurers in our state. I also will propose legislation to reduce the costs that lawsuits impose on our health care system. These efforts will be coordinated with the good work already underway in the House and Senate.

Also, through the work of the First Lady, we are striving to make Rhode Island the first "well state" in America. That means 20% of all workers will have access to disease prevention techniques and health promotion at the work site by the year 2006. This project will go a long way towards reducing health care costs.

Regarding property taxes, in November I convened the first-ever Municipal Summit. We brought together more than 100 municipal and school department leaders.

It was a very productive and uplifting day! The objective was to explore ways to work together to reduce the cost of municipal services. Many of the issues faced by the cities and towns are the same as those faced by state government. The major expenditure is personnel and benefit costs.

We are exploring ways to collaborate on contract negotiations, collective purchasing (especially health care) and state mandates. In truth, property taxes can only be stabilized if municipal spending is stabilized. Working together, I believe that is achievable.

Finally, let me talk briefly on one last subject which will have an important impact on our state: casino gambling.

The proponents of a new casino are going to spend millions of dollars to try to convince us that it will be a great source of new revenue for our state, providing thousands of jobs. I submit to you that that is not the case.

The fact is we are already receiving $215 million from Lincoln Park and Newport Grand at a 60% tax rate, more than twice what a new casino proposes. The loss of jobs at nearby restaurants, gift shops and small family businesses will offset most of the new jobs.

The affects on families because of addiction to gambling are devastating.

We are already too dependent on gambling revenue. If we continue, we will soon be owned by them.

Tonight I have mapped out new trails toward good jobs, good schools, good government and a good place to live. What I call "Pathways to Prosperity". We are poised like never before to seize the moment and propel ourselves forward. It will mean challenging ourselves in new ways with new vigor.

I ask all of us tonight to take inspiration from the spirit of the New England Patriots. They won the Super Bowl with teamwork, preparation and perseverance. If we follow that formula, we will make Rhode Island a shining star we can all be proud of.

I have never felt more optimistic about our future!

Thank you. Good night. And may God bless Rhode Island and all of America.
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