Higher Ed, Metro

Chafee seeks to raise taxes and education funding

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2012


In his annual State of the State address last night, Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 concentrated on the state budget and emphasized the importance of optimism in the face of Rhode Island’s dire economic climate.

Chafee began his address by urging leaders to “prepare for the challenges that lie ahead this year” — challenges that include unemployment, failing municipal pension plans, education reforms and “painful cuts” to the budget.

Chafee’s speech verified reports that he would introduce new taxes and tax increases in conjunction with the $7.9 billion budget plan he released yesterday. Chafee presented the tax increases  — such as those on meals and beverages — delicately, noting that the revenue collected from the increases would help finance “additional education funding.”

Focusing heavily on education, the governor presented an additional $40 million appropriation to education funding for cities and towns to “bring people together to improve academic achievement.”

“If we want our children to compete for jobs in the future, they must have good schools,” Chafee said. “Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”

Chafee emphasized Rhode Island’s wealth of assets, citing the Warren Alpert Medical School as a part of the state’s bright future, both educationally and economically. “There are only seven Ivy League medical schools in the world and we have one of them, in a newly renovated and beautiful building in the Knowledge District,” he said.

In response to Rhode Island’s current unemployment rate of 10.8 percent — the highest in New England — Chafee announced the creation of a Governor’s Jobs Cabinet to explore ways to make the state more attractive to new businesses and industries that will create jobs. “There’s no reason for Rhode Island to be lagging behind its neighbors,” he said.

“To have so many Rhode Islanders out of work is unacceptable,” Chafee said. “Everything good occurs when people are working.”

Chafee also addressed the municipal pension problem facing towns and cities in the state, imploring the General Assembly to “empower these municipalities through legislation.”

Increased property taxes in towns and cities — which have risen 16 percent over the past five years — resulted from 17 percent cuts in state aid to cities over the same time period, Chafee said. He added that the pension situation in the state was a crisis, and he was met with raucous applause when he implored legislators to “make this the year of our cities and towns.”

Chafee ended the address by asking legislators to work together, seek transparency and remain optimistic as Rhode Island leaves “the winter of despair” and heads into “the spring of hope.”