On Tuesday evening, Governor Lincoln Chafee made the first stop on his “Rhode Trip” at the Johnston Senior Center to present his budget and address concerns from town officials and citizens.
Throughout the hour-long meeting, Chafee admitted the state is still facing a tough economy, but his outlook remains positive. “We have a lot of work to do; I am not naïve about what we need to do in the state,” said Chafee. “But we are heading in the right direction.”
The purpose of this meeting was for Chafee to explain the 2013 state budget, which was submitted on Jan. 16. He emphasized that previous administrations had always cut aid to the cities and towns, but his plan would provide $30 million in state aid, and calls for an additional $30.3 million to education. While there are increases in state aid, the budget calls for no increases in taxes or fees; in fact, the corporate tax has been lowered from 9 to 7 percent under his proposal.
It is Chafee’s belief that investing in education and infrastructure will prove beneficial for the state’s overall economy, because it maintains quality of life, which in turn encourages business growth in the area.
In addition to his budget, Chafee’s opening remarks praised the various government departments, none of which came in over budget last year.
“Not only is the economy growing and we are increasing revenue, but we are managing these departments well,” he said.
With the exception of a handful of concerned citizens, the audience was made up of Johnston officials, with special guests including Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian.
When Chafee opened the floor up to questions, with assistance from Mayor Joseph Polisena, the audience brought up concerns that affect the entire state, including business regulations, distressed cities and workforce development.
“It’s not good for any community when one is in distress,” said Chafee. “That is what is really hurting [the] Rhode Island economy.”
Throughout the evening, the governor promoted the belief that the new budget, improvements in infrastructure and support for education would move the state forward.
There were mixed reviews from the audience at the meeting’s conclusion. Many were pleased with the discussion and the manner in which the governor responded to concerns, but others wished more had been addressed and concrete solutions provided.
Overall, Town Clerk Vincent Baccari was happy with the presentation and thought the governor did a good job expressing his view and his vision for the future.
“I think he hit on all the important topics,” Baccari said.
Laurie Johnson, an employee for Butler Hospital, was disappointed with the overall tone of the meeting. “Where are the citizens?” asked Johnson.
She also felt that the discussion consisted of placing blame on previous administrations instead of taking responsibility and presenting solutions.
“If we don’t start making cuts, what’s going to be left for the kids?” she asked.
She was hoping to hear more about cuts to social services and services used by a minority of the population like RIPTA.
Brenda Dowlatshahi of the Tri-Town Community Action Agency had mixed feelings. She was happy with the tone, but was hoping to address concerns from her organization about the sequester, a series of automatic cuts to both middle class jobs and public services set to occur tomorrow if Congress does not act.
The cuts would affect many of the services Tri-Town supports, including Heat Start, public health, childcare and more.
“I thought [the meeting] was positive, but we needed to get the word out about the services we provide,” said Dowlatshahi, who spoke during the meeting to urge Chafee to take action against the sequester.
Polisena expressed confidence in Chafee and his plan to improve the various issues throughout the state.
“Our governor is not afraid to take on the challenges,” he said. “He has a plan not only for a better state, but for a better Johnston.”
Despite the challenging economy, Chafee urged citizens to have patience. He believes if the state sticks to the fundamentals and focuses on the basics, things will continue to go in the right direction.